choreographic works, copyright protection, dance choreography, Copyright Act of 1976, choreography copyright infringement


The American dance scene has been growing, both in popularity and profitability, since its inception in the early 1900s. After fighting for decades for Congress to include it in Copyright laws, the dance community saw “choreographic works” added as a protected medium in the Copyright Act of 1976. The Copyright Act does not define choreography, something this Note seeks to do. Since its enactment, very few choreographers have brought claims under the statute. This Note seeks to evaluate the standards that would apply in a potential choreography copyright infringement suit by following two hypotheticals through the determination and application of copyright law. This Note posits a possible rationale for choreography’s addition to the 1976 Copyright Act. After determining what standards from general copyright law would be applicable to a choreography copyright infringement suit, this Note suggests clarifications to the statute, specifically by presenting a definition of choreography itself and clarifying the use of fair use factors in a defense analysis. This Note concludes with the application of the suggested standards to two hypotheticals: a hypothetical claim by a modern choreographer against Beyoncé for using her choreography in a music video, and a hypothetical claim by Martha Graham against her protégé Paul Taylor for appropriating her signature technique.