Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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805.2 (D) Dramatic Content


805.2 (D) Dramatic Content


A choreographic work may present a story or theme or it may be an abstract composition. See U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE, REPORT OF THE REGISTER OF COPYRIGHTS ON THE GENERAL REVISION OF THE U.S. COPYRIGHT LAW 17 (COMM. PRINT 1961) (“We see no reason why an ‘abstract’ dance, as an original creation of a choreographer’s authorship, should not be protected as fully as a traditional ballet presenting a story or theme.”).


Choreographic works often tell a story, develop characters or themes, and convey dramatic concepts or ideas through a sequence of bodily movements presented in an integrated, compositional whole. “Choreographic works of this character are typified by ballets.” COPYRIGHT OFFICE STUDY NO. 28, at 101.


A choreographic work may convey dramatic action through specific dance movements and physical actions, even though it does not tell a story or follow a narrative structure. “[M]any ‘modern’ dances, as distinguished from traditional ballets, are no doubt creative works of authorship; and although no ‘story’ may be readily evident in a dance of the ‘modern’ variety, the dance movements are expected to convey some thematic or emotional concept to an audience.” Id.


By contrast, choreographic works published prior to January 1, 1978 cannot be registered unless the work tells a story, develops a character, or expresses a theme or emotion by means of specific dance movements and physical actions. Choreography was not mentioned in the 1909 Act, and as a result, dances movements could be registered only if the work qualified as a “dramatic work.” See id. at 94. For a discussion of these requirements, see Chapter 2100, Section 2122.3.


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