Written by attorney Elena Y. Volkova

Choreographing Copyright: The Art of Protecting Dance and Fitness Works

by Tyler Jaramillo and Roizin & Volkova Law Group PLLC Ownership of a choreographic work is established upon creation, but a work is not protected from use by others unless it is published and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In the world of dance and fitness, the relationship between choreographer and the institution she works for can be unclear. This lack of definition can affect ownership of the dance pieces or movement sequences created by the choreographer. Clarifying ownership is one of the reasons copyright registration is vital to this industry.

Registration is important because it provides a public record of the copyright claim to ownership. In addition to making ownership public, registration allows an owner to file an infringement claim in federal court; it serves as evidence of ownership, and depending on when you register, allows damages and attorney’s fees to be awarded in an infringement case. Without registration, only actual damages and profits can be awarded to the owner in an infringement action. Therefore, registering for copyright has advantages that should be planned for and taken seriously.

The actual process of registration with the Copyright Office is approachable and can be handled with or without the assistance of an attorney. Most find that they are able to navigate the application themselves. Acceptance of your application by the Copyright Office means that you can take action to protect your work if someone else violates one of your rights as a copyright holder.

In general it is good practice to register as soon as possible but especially before an infringement claim. The process of registration is as follows:

First, choreography or movement sequence must be recorded (on DVD, in writing, or by using Labanotation). Ideally, all works should be recorded; this is especially important for the registration process and possible infringement claims.

Second, register the work as soon as possible by completing the online application found here: Send a copy (DVD, writing, Labanotation) of the piece for deposit in the Copyright Office along with the $35 fee per application. While waiting for a response or copyright certificate from the Copyright Office the © symbol can be affixed to copies of the work.

Lastly, if you are a fitness instructor or choreographer hired to create original movement sequences, be aware that the default rule is that your employer owns the copyright to your work unless otherwise provided. Conversely, if you represent a dance/exercise institution, the institution should use the employment contract to designate what works the institution will have ownership over.

All and all, good copyright planning can be manageable when dealing with choreography. Responsible planning should include an employment agreement covering ownership where necessary, publication of the works, and registration of the works on a timely basis.

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