Section 102 of the 1976 Copyright Act extends copyright protection to “pantomimes and choreographic works,” provided that the works do not constitute commonplace movements or gestures, social dances, and/or ordinary motor activities and athletic movements. These restrictions generally preclude dances like the grapevine, the basic waltz step, and celebratory end zone dance moves from copyright registration. Knight made history in July 2020, when his choreography for Beyoncé‘s Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) became the first non-ballet choreographic work to be approved for copyright registration. Since then, Knight has gone on to receive copyright registration for additional choreographic works, such as the choreography for “Body,” performed by Meghan Thee Stallion.
Knight intends to continue to push for the copyright registration of similar choreographic works under his newly launched company, Knight Choreography & Music Publishing (KCMP). KCMP will operate in a similar fashion to a typical music publisher - brokering licensing deals, enforcing intellectual property rights, and acting as a strategic partner for choreographers, dancers, and other creatives in the commercial music industry.
Implications for Enforcement
As we have reported previously, the rise and proliferation of short-form content and viral dance trends, has brought with it the potential exposure for copyright infringement claims. This risk is potentially enhanced as choreographers more aggressively pursue copyright registration in works like the Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) dance, and as companies like KCMP seek out and enforce such registrations with greater frequency and efficacy. Companies and brands should carefully consider this potential exposure before utilizing viral dance routines which may be protected (or protectable) as copyrighted work.
On the defense side, this area of the law is ripe for development. Historically, there have been relatively few cases regarding the copyright infringement of protected choreography. As choreographers increasingly pursue copyright registration for a wider variety of choreographic works, the number of such cases may increase. Companies should take this opportunity to ensure they have the appropriate clearances to use dance routines or other choreographic work in their marketing and advertising, including social media uses, and to have the proper agreements with choreographers in place.