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2122.3 Choreography and Works Containing Choreography

2122.3 Choreography and Works Containing Choreography


The 1909 Act did not recognize choreography as a distinct category of copyrightable authorship. A choreographic work was eligible for federal copyright protection only to the extent that it qualified as a “dramatic composition.” To satisfy this requirement, a choreographic work had to tell a story, develop a character, or express a theme or emotion by means of specific movements and physical actions. See U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE, STUDY NO. 28: COPYRIGHT IN CHOREOGRAPHIC WORKS at 176 (1960).


The U.S. Copyright Office registered choreographic works for the original term as published or unpublished “dramatico-musical compositions.” Copyright Office regulations promulgated under the 1909 Act stated that:


Choreographic work of a dramatic character, whether the story or theme be expressed in music or action combined or by actions alone, are subject to registration in Class D. However, descriptions of dance steps and other physical gestures, including ballroom and social dances or choreographic works which do not tell a story, develop a character or emotion, or otherwise convey a dramatic concept or idea, are not subject to registration in Class D.


37 C.F.R. § 202.7 (1959). When Congress enacted the 1976 Copyright Act it extended federal copyright protection to choreography, and since then, the Office has registered choreographic works in class PA.


To be registered as a dramatic work for the renewal term, a choreographic work should tell a story or convey a dramatic concept or idea. The work had to be fixed in a perceptible form (e.g., a textual description, Laban notation, or videography) in enough detail that the work can be performed. Descriptions of dance steps that do not tell a story, develop a character or emotion, or otherwise convey a dramatic concept or idea, are not subject to registration as dramatic works. Also, it is not possible to register a mere dance step or variation. Ballroom, social, and folk dance steps are not registrable.