Identifying whether certain works are original for copyright protection can be tricky enough. Establishing that certain body movements are unique and in need of protection is even more complicated. As a result, dancers and choreographers are often left in the lurch regarding the laws that protect the original work they create. The abstract nature of dance makes it harder to obtain IP rights for choreography, however, this does not mean it is impossible.

Does Copyright Protect Choreography?

Most forms of choreography fall under the heading of ‘dramatic work’, which is protected under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). To attract copyright protection, however, choreography must be both original and in its material form. The ‘material form’ requirement means that the choreography has to be written down or documented in some way. Writing it down using dance notation, or recording it on a video are examples of how dancers and choreographers can satisfy this criterion. Interestingly, when choreography is in its material form, other avenues of protection are available under copyright because the process of writing it down produces a ‘literary work’ and the task of filming it enables it to be classified as a cinematograph film.

How Do I Get Copyright Protection?

Copyright in Australia automatically attaches to original work so there is no need to register for protection. Nonetheless, it is a very sensible move to notify people that copyright protects your choreographed dance. It is as simple as placing a statement on all work to the effect of ‘© Business Name, 2016’. The material, where this statement should appear, could include video footage, written notation of choreography or even websites that contain information about your dance or choreography.

Who Owns the Copyright?

The choreographer typically has rights in copyright. However, there are always exceptions. For instance, if you are a choreographer and an employee of a business, it may be worthwhile seeking independent legal advice to make sure you understood who has rights to the copyright.

What Rights Does Copyright Give?

It’s important to know who owns the copyright because as the copyright owner, you will have exclusive rights to deal with the choreography. For example, the copyright allows the owner to monetise their work by reproducing the work or communicating it to the public via email, the Internet or in public performances.

Unfortunately, many choreographers do not enforce their IP rights as they are unaware how to leverage copyright law for their benefit. Providing notifications of copyright is one thing, but understanding that legal action is available for those who infringe your copyright is also important.

What About Dancers?

Copyright of choreography also means that dancers will need to be careful not to use substantial or distinctive parts of the choreography they have learnt without the owner’s permission. Otherwise, dancers could be infringing the owner’s copyright.

Fortunately, there are avenues for further assistance if you are a dancer with questions, Ausdance (Australian Dance Council) may be able to provide further details for those dancers that want to use original choreography.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

Copyright will protect a choreographic show for the lifetime of the author as well as an additional seventy years after the author’s death.

Moving On

Would you believe that in the twentieth-century copyright did not extend to choreography because dance was not classified as a useful art form? Thankfully we have moved on from these times, but naturally, there is still a lot of confusion about copyright law and how it provides protection as well as responsibilities for choreographers and dancers.  

If you have any questions about enforcing your IP rights, get in touch with our IP lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Esther Mistarz

Ask Esther a Question

If you would like further information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please get in touch using the form on this page.