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

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805.5 (B) (2) Social Dances


805.5 (B) (2) Social Dances


Congress made it clear that there is a distinction between “choreographic works” on the one hand and social dances on the other. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 54 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5667 (“‘choreographic works’ do not include social dance steps and simple routines”); S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 52 (1975). Choreographic works are eligible for copyright protection, but social dances are not. Examples of social dance include the following:


• Ballroom dances.

• Folk dances.

• Line dances.

• Square dances.

• Swing dances.

• Break dances.


Choreographic works are compositions that are intended to be performed by skilled dancers, typically for the enjoyment of an audience. By contrast, social dances are intended to be performed by members of the general public for their own personal enjoyment. In other words, “social dances are intended to be executed by the public, not to be performed for the public as audience.” COPYRIGHT OFFICE STUDY NO. 28, at 100.


Performing a social dance is often a participatory, social experience, while the performance of a choreographic work is an expressive act that is typically intended to be performed for the enjoyment of others. Whereas social dances are generally capable of being performed by members of the public, choreographic works typically cannot. See id. at 93, 100.


If a social dance could be considered a choreographic work under Section 102 (A) (4) of the Copyright Act, every individual who performed that dance in public would infringe the rights of the copyright owner. Unlike singing a song in the shower or whistling a tune in a car (which would be considered a private performance), social dances are usually performed in public by members of the general public. In other words, these types of dances are typically performed at places that are open to the public or at social functions where a substantial number of people outside the normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered. 17 U.S.C. § 101 (definition of “perform or display a work ‘publicly'”).


Given the express language in the House and Senate Reports concerning the meaning of the term “choreographic works” and given the absence of any limitation on the public performance right with respect to dance, the Office has concluded that social dances do not constitute copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A) (4) of the Copyright Act.




• Seymour Winkler created a line dance for a song titled “The Slip,” which was featured in a famous music video. The dance consists of a few steps, a turn, a hop, and a snap, which is then repeated in different directions. “The Slip” is often performed at weddings and other social occasions, and members of the general public often perform Seymour’s line dance when the song is played. The U.S. Copyright Office would refuse to register this line dance, because it is a social dance that is commonly performed by members of the public as a participatory social activity (rather than a theatrical performance for the enjoyment of an audience).


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