Vanderbilt Law Review


Evie Whiting

First Page



If all the arts are brothers, dance is the forgotten stepchild of the family. The "black sheep" of the arts, dance has struggled to find academic and legal recognition on par with its creative counterparts. Throughout the history of U.S. copyright protection, dance has consistently been an afterthought. Although Congress passed the first copyright law in 1790, copyright did not explicitly protect choreographic works until 1976. The 1909 Copyright Act only protected pieces of choreography that could be registered by the author as a type of "dramatic composition." This relegation to a subset-of-a- subset aptly characterizes the ongoing academic and artistic search for an ontology of dance separate from other, more established art forms such as music or theater. The academic study of dance remains "a relatively new (and chronically underfunded) field of educational study and research."

Dancers and choreographers consistently feel frustration with the state of the copyright laws in the United States, while lawyers chafe against the perceived lack of effort choreographers make to conform their work to the statutory requirements. Only those choreographic works that are "fixed" may be copyrighted: demanding either a video recording, which glosses over much of a work's nuance, or a specially notated version of the choreography, often costing more than the work is able to generate.'