Copyright Compendium

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805.5 (A) De minimis Movements and Dance Steps

805.5 (A) De minimis Movements and Dance Steps


As discussed in Section 805.1, choreography is the composition and arrangement of “a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into a coherent whole.” Horgan, 789 F.2d at 161 (quoting COMPENDIUM (SECOND) § 450.03 (A)). Individual movements or dance steps by themselves are not copyrightable, such as the basic waltz step, the hustle step, the grapevine, or the second position in classical ballet. Id. (quoting COMPENDIUM (SECOND) § 450.06). Likewise, the U.S. Copyright Office cannot register short dance routines consisting of only a few movements or steps with minor linear or spatial variations, even if the routine is novel or distinctive. Cf. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A). The individual elements of a dance are not copyrightable for the same reason that individual words, numbers, notes, colors, or shapes are not protected by the copyright law.

Individual dance steps and short dance routines are the building blocks of choreographic expression, and allowing copyright protection for these elements would impede rather than foster creative expression. See Horgan, 789 F.2d at 161 (quoting COMPENDIUM (SECOND) § 450.06).


Examples:


• Aruna Desai choreographed a music video for a song titled “Made in the USA.” The dance is a complex and intricate work performed by a troupe of professional dancers. During the chorus, the dancers form the letters “U, S, A” with their arms. Although the dance as a whole could be registered as a choreographic work, the Office would reject a claim limited to the “U, S, A” gesture.


• Butler Beauchamp is a wide receiver for a college football team. Whenever he scores a touchdown, Butler performs a celebratory dance in the endzone. The dance merely consists of a few movements of the legs, shoulders, and arms. The Office would refuse to register this dance as a choreographic work.

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