Preservation and Protection in Dance Licensing: How Choreographers Use Contract to Fill in the Gaps of Copyright and Custom

Sadtler, Shant

Despite gaining copyright protection for their works in 1976, choreographers infrequently register their creations and virtually never sue for infringement. Choreographers' reluctance to assert and enforce their rights stems from the imperfect fit between copyright doctrines and long-held dance community customs, which include rules for licensing dances. Given choreographers' extremely limited funds, the high cost of litigation and the infrequency of conflicts within the dance community, choreographers have little incentive to invoke the remedies of copyright law. Instead, the dance world has used licensing agreements to tailor the default copyright rules to its unique needs and to ensure that its works are preserved with integrity. This Note classifies these licensing agreements into three categories and then analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of each category for choreographers, licensees and nonchoreography right holders. The analysis reveals how choreographers effectively use the flexibility of contract law to respond to their individual financial circumstances, goals and concerns. Ultimately, contract reconciles custom and copyright by enabling choreographers to realize the economic value of their copyrights while also tailoring those rights to conform to long-held industry customs.


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Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts

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July 3, 2012