Copyright Compendium

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806.1 What Is a Pantomime?

806.1 What Is a Pantomime?


The Copyright Act recognizes pantomime as a distinct category of copyrightable authorship. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (A) (4). The statute does not define “pantomime.” However, the legislative history states that this term has a “fairly settled meaning[].” H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 53 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5666-67; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at

52 (1975).


Pantomime is the art of imitating, presenting, or acting out situations, characters, or events through the use of physical gestures and bodily movements. Long before Congress extended federal copyright protection to pantomimes, the Supreme Court recognized that a silent performance is worthy of copyright protection if it qualifies as a dramatic work. As Justice Holmes observed: “[D]rama may be achieved by action as well as by speech. Action can tell a story, display all the most vivid relations between men, and depict every kind of human emotion, without the aid of a word. It would be impossible to deny the title of drama to pantomime as played by masters of the art.” Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros., 222 U.S. 55, 61 (1911).


Pantomimes and choreographic works are separate and distinct forms of authorship. The physical movements in a pantomime tend to be more restricted than the movements in a choreographic work, while pantomime uses more facial expressions and gestures of the hands and arms than choreography. Unlike a choreographic work, a pantomime usually imitates or caricatures a person, situation, or event. While choreography is typically performed with a musical accompaniment, pantomime is commonly performed without music or measured rhythm.

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