Professional Standards for Dance

Section 11 - Copyright

11. Copyright


11. Copyright

11.1. Intellectual Property (IP) & Copyright

Your choreography is your intellectual property and copyright is the legal right to perform or copy it.

11.2. Legislation

Copyright in Canada is governed by federal legislation called the Copyright Act. At the time of writing, the Copyright Modernization Act C-11 is in effect. The Copyright Act organizes works into four categories: literary, dramatic, musical and artistic. “Choreographic works” are included in the dramatic category.

Under the Copyright Act, exclusive rights are given to the copyright holder(s) for the right to perform the work (including excerpts of the work), reproduction of the work in any medium, distribution of the work and to create derivatives (any work that is derived from your work). Copyright generally lasts for 50 years after the death of the author, after which time a work is in “the public domain”.

Copyright law is the same throughout Canada and does not vary from province to province. Copyright is protected in over a hundred countries through means of international copyright treaties.

Legislation is often clarified through experience and precedents established in courts through litigation, resulting in “case law”. There is little case law around choreography, no doubt because there is so little money involved. Artists may value originality or the concept of individual voice, however, these are not really monetized concepts; copyright is driven more by the concept of revenues that can be generated by performances or copying.

In cases of collaborative creation, copyright would usually be shared. Write the agreement down and specify percentage ownership in the work. In cases where Dancers/Interpreters have contributed to the creation of choreography through improvisation or other means, usually they would not be considered co-choreographers, however, their contribution should be acknowledged in writing in program credits. Be mindful that the level of contribution and co-creation can be difficult to quantify and can change during production. (Authorship has been contested by dancers/contributors years after creation of a work.)

11.3. How is choreographic copyright established?

A work must be capable of being copyright-protected; capable means more than an idea, it’s an expression of that idea. It must also be a new work. The work must be expressed in physical form and be fixated, or recorded. It is harder to think of fixation in an ephemeral form such as dance than in literary forms, however, videotaping is a way to fixate as is notating. Your copyright exists the moment your work is fixated in some way.

You don’t have to register your copyright for it to exist. However, proving your copyright is another thing, therefore, registering copyright can be a good idea. You can register a work with the Canadian government through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. The cost is $50. 

To qualify for registration, the author must be a Canadian citizen or a person ordinarily resident in Canada, or a citizen or subject of or a person ordinarily resident in a country with which Canada has entered into a copyright treaty.

11.4. Author vs. Owner

There is a difference between the author and owner of copyright. (We have already referred to the fact that a commissioner could be the copyright owner.) The author never changes; the owner can change. When a contract stipulates that the choreographic work be deemed, “Work made in the course of employment” (Canadian) or, “work made for hire” (U.S. equivalent), be aware that you are selling your copyright, because work made as an employee in the course of employment is owned by the employer. For example, if you are a dance teacher employed by a school board, when you leave the particular school where you choreographed a series of dances, the board is the owner of the dances, not you – unless you have attended to your copyright by specifying your ownership in a contract. You are the author but not the owner in this example.

Keep in mind that in the Canadian professional dance community, employment is actually quite rare and self-employment is more often the norm. As discussed in other parts of this publication, know your employment status.

If you sell your copyright, you should receive significantly higher payment for your choreography than if you retain your copyright and license the use of the work. This is because you are forgoing any opportunity to generate revenue by licensing the work in the future. (Be aware that if you choose to sell your copyright, technically you are opening yourself to claims against you that you are infringing copyright should you make a subsequent work based on the work sold. You could be sued for self-plagiarism!)

Even in situations where you as a choreographer sell the copyright, as the author you retain moral rights. Exercising one’s moral rights requires the author’s approval before the work can be changed and used in association with a product or cause without the author’s permission. The law prevents the selling of moral rights; however, to get around this, contracts sometimes require that moral rights be waived.


11.5. Copyright Ownership & Dance Companies

Given the above information regarding employment, where does that leave choreographers working within dance companies? 

Technically speaking, a dance company could own the copyright for choreography made by its Artistic Director (when they are an employee) or any employed choreographer. Clarify this. Practice in the dance community usually is that copyright resides with the choreographer and not the company, so that if the choreographer leaves, they can take their work with them. This requires clarification either in the form of a written Board policy or contractual agreement. 

Even in cases where companies contract self-employed artists as opposed to employing artists, it is a good practice to clarify who owns the choreographic copyright. 

Some possibilities: 

Work created by the choreographer is the property of the Engager, who retains the right to remount at any time; 
Work created by the choreographer is the property of the choreographer, who retains the right to remount or license the work to another party;
Work created by the choreographer is the property of the Engager for a negotiated period of time and the right remains with the choreographer to remount or license the work to another party. 

In general, CADA/East supports choreographers always owning copyright to their work.


11.6. Royalties

Royalties can be calculated on a variety of formulas including percentage of production budget, box office revenue, per minute rate or flat fee. CADA/East supports per-minute rates for choreographic royalties and recommends $6 per minute per performance. Given the small size of dance production budgets compared to most theatre and the relative financial precariousness of dance in general, a per minute rate is a known quantity that will support the choreographer and the producer. We also do so because it is simple and we understand that most self-producing dance artists want to spend more time choreographing than administering.


11.7. Using Music

Understand the difference between “music for pleasure” and “music for your dance practice”. Purchasing a CD does not entitle you to use the music for your own profit - only enjoyment. (Believe it or not, the concept of profit includes dance performances.) You should not use another artist’s artistic product without them receiving a fee or providing permission. You can use music in a rehearsal for no charge.

Your first step as a choreographer planning to use music, whenever possible, is to ask the composer for permission. Search on the internet for the composer’s website or publisher. You may find that a royalty is waived or that the composer has set higher fees than the norm. Be aware that some publishers often have staff to search the internet for mention of the composer’s name and take action when illegal use is found. Store your email or written attempts to contact the composer.

If this is unsuccessful, your next step is to go to the website of the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) which administers the performing rights for music creators, collects licence fees and pays royalties. 

There is no specific category for dance performances and they fall under SOCAN Tariff 4.B.1. – (Classical Music Concerts). If this seems too irrelevant to your practice, take a look around the tariffs and email SOCAN for guidance.

If you are using 4.B.1., you will download the form after the performance and complete it at that time. Go to the SOCAN site for the specifics; however, we would like to emphasize two things: 1) review this during pre-production while you are preparing your budget, and 2) clarify who is responsible for the payment of royalties and licences in your contract. (Please refer to Section 2.3.2.1 of this document.)

As previously stated, copyright generally enters the public domain 50 years after the death of the author or composer (however, there are exceptions to this). If you are using music in the public domain, you should not be subject to a fee, so be sure to make this clear to the venue. If you are presenting a mixed program, however, the producer or presenter will definitely add a surcharge to the tickets for SOCAN if it is a member of the Society.

This document does not provide an exhaustive overview of how choreographers can legally use music and we refer you to the SOCAN website for more information. 

Teachers should be aware that use of music for teaching purposes falls under SOCAN Tariff 19. CADA/East refers you to Dance Ontario, which has an excellent group licensing agreement: members can pay $90 per year on top of their membership fee for SOCAN licensing. 


11.8. Choreographing From a Literary Source

There could be a difficult line to establish between being influenced by a literary work and basing a dance on the work. If you are basing a dance on a literary source, you need to obtain the necessary permission. Start by seeking the permission of the author. (See Using Music above.)


11.9. Photographs of Your Work

The photographer owns the photograph and the choreographer owns the choreography. Clarify expectations of use prior to the photo shoot and write them down in a letter of agreement or contract. You will likely want the photographer to assign or license you for use of the photographs (see Glossary). The agreement you make will likely influence the photographer’s fee (i.e. if you want total use in perpetuity, expect to pay a higher fee.)


11.10. Video on the Internet

Opinions vary about posting video clips on the internet; some choreographers are concerned that it makes their work rife for theft and others value it for visibility and/or audience-building. Once your work is out there on the internet, it is unrealistic to expect that you will be likely to control the use of the choreography, so make your decision based on your priorities. (See Using Music section also.) It is illegal to post a video using copyrighted music without a sync license.

11.10.1 Choreographers should obtain permission from anyone appearing in the video to use for promotional or social media purposes.

11.10.2 Consider looking into archiving and safely storing your videographed dances.  Dance Collection Danse’s Archiving workshops and Videocan, an online repository of Canadian performance, are good resources.


11.11. Cultural Considerations 

It has already been noted that for copyright to apply to choreography, it must be a new work. Staging a traditional dance presents specific issues that should be addressed by the community in question. Come to an agreement before you start work and write it down.  There should be appropriate consultation with community members and elders, as well as appropriate compensation for this time.



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