Skip to Main Content

Copyright and Dance: Choreography

copyright resources specific to dance students and faculty
Last Updated: May 9, 2022 10:00 AM

Dance: What is protected?

There are several ways a choreography can be "fixed" to a tangible medium and therefore protected by copyright.

Choreographers have varying methods of capturing their choreography, but the most relevant example to the UB dance community is video recordings. Perhaps you performed as a dancer in one of the Department of Theatre and Dance productions, such as the Zodiaque Dance Company, Emerging Choreographers Showcase, or ChoreoLab. Each choreography in each show is captured on video. You may want to create a dance reel as a video portfolio of your talent and skill. In order to create such a video, you would be incorporating short portions of multiple copyrighted works in your reel, or clip, video.

In order to use these copyright-protected choreographies in your dance reel, without seeking written permission from the individual choreographers, you'll need to evaluate your intended use of their work to see if it's fair. When you upload a dance reel video to YouTube, that is a commercial use because the purpose of the video is to promote your skills and experience as a dancer. It's also worldwide distribution. Both of these aspects of your intended use fall under factor #1 of fair use, which is purpose and character. Learn more about fair use on the main copyright research guide.

Source: U.S. Copyright Office. (2017). Copyright Registration of Choreography and Pantomime, Circular 52.

Dance: What is NOT protected?

Examples of dance that are not original enough to be protected:

  1. Commonplace movements or gestures
    • yoga positions, athletic victory dance, people spelling things with their arms
  2. Social dances
    • ballroom dances, folk dances, swing dances, etc.
  3. Ordinary motor activities and athletic movements
  4. Routines not performed by humans

Source: U.S. Copyright Office. (2017). Copyright Registration of Choreography and Pantomime, Circular 52.