The Copyright Act defines a compilation as “a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.” 17 U.S.C. § 101.
Typically, the author of a compilation selects the preexisting material that is included in the compilation, the author classifies, categorizes, or groups these elements into particular sequences, and the author decides how these elements should be arranged within the compilation as a whole. A compilation may be registered if the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of preexisting material was independently created and if the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement contains a sufficient amount of creativity.
In addition, the compilation must fall within one or more of the categories of works listed in Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 57 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5670; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 54-55 (1975). In other words, the compilation as a whole must constitute a choreographic work, a pantomime, a dramatic work, or one of the other categories of works listed in Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act. If the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of dance steps or other physical movements as a whole do not fall within one or more of the congressionally established categories of authorship, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse registration. See Registration of Claims to Copyright, 77 Fed. Reg. at 37,606.
Unlike other categories of authorship, such as literary works, musical works, pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, audiovisual works, and sound recordings, the mere selection, coordination, and arrangement of bodily movements does not necessarily result in the creation of a choreographic work, even if the work contains more than a de minimis number of dance movements. As discussed in Section 805.4 (D), an expressive dance composition may qualify as a choreographic work if it “represents 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)). As a general rule, classical ballet and modern abstract dance are considered choreographic works, because they objectively constitute an expressive compositional whole. By contrast, many combinations of dance steps or other physical movements do not satisfy this requirement.
To be copyrightable, a compilation of movements or steps must fall within one or more of the categories of copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A). See Registration of Claims to Copyright, 77 Fed. Reg. at 37,606. While a compilation of dance steps may satisfy the criteria for a “choreographic work,” a compilation of social dances, simple routines, or other uncopyrightable movements may not satisfy these criteria when considered individually or in the aggregate. If the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of steps or movements does not result in an expressive compositional whole, the compilation does not constitute copyrightable subject matter under Section 102 (A) (4) of the Copyright Act, and as such, cannot be registered as a choreographic work.