Recently, on the Law Library’s New Titles List, Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance by Anthea Kraut (KF 3054.C56 K73 2016) caught my eye.
The book gives, as the author suggests, “what might be considered a counter history of choreographic copyright in the United States,” examining the raced, classed, and gendered aspects of attempts by dance-makers in the United States to control the circulation of their choreography. Not until 1976 did U.S. federal copyright law officially recognize choreographic works as a protectable class, but efforts by U.S. dancers to exert rights over their choreography began in the 19th century.
The book uses case studies to demonstrate how race, class, and gender have intersected with attempts by choreographers to protect their work at different historical moments. It tells the stories of African American pantomimist Johnny Hudgins in the early decades of the twentieth century, early white modern dancer Loie Fuller at the end of the nineteenth century, and many others including well-known choreographers George Balanchine and Martha Graham whose copyright cases went to trial and helped define how we see “work for hire” in the creative arts.
A dense book, with vivid stories and images Choreographic Copyright will challenge the way you think about ownership of dance works, and question how the choreographer’s frequent status as “other” lead to diminished intellectual property protection. Brining history to dance today, Kraut delivers a fascinating examination of Beyonce’s unauthorized reproduction of De Keersmaeker’s “Rosas danst Rosas” choreography for her own “Countdown” video. It appears the parties reached a settlement, but the fascinating story highlights the tension still seen today between the art and the commercial society the work inhabits.