The notion of copyrighting dance moves might strike many of us as strange, given both the nature of the activity and our own relationship to it. Copyright involves setting something down in a fixed medium, and for those who enjoy it, dance is something that comes spontaneously from moments of joy, away from cameras and separate from the idea of trying to potentially profit. Then there are those of us who are terrible at dancing, and would spend any amount of money necessary to have recordings of ourselves moving on the dance floor scrubbed from the internet, if not the minds of those who witnessed it.
But there are those who are both good at dancing and seeking to make a living from it, and for those individuals the ability to copyright dance moves could be a boon and a way to preserve their authorship over such creativity. JaQuel Knight, a choreographer who has worked with no less an artist than Beyonce (among others) and the first choreographer to gain a copyright for his dance, has started his own company, Knight Choreography and Music Publishing Inc., to further his ambitions in the dance copyright space.
If you had been previously skeptical of the notion of copyright in dance, choreography for notable artists is where you can easily see an intersection of the two. Dances we create in our own home might be frivolous offerings, but the dances we see in music videos or other widely-viewed performances can become iconic; Knight’s groundbreaking copyright was for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video, and if there’s a more noteworthy routine this century, I’m as yet unaware of it. It’s easy to see shows or films wanting to recreate those moves, and easy to see how Knight could easily have been left in the cold when it came to compensation.
And Knight’s concern isn’t simply for himself when it comes to getting paid; the company will serve to represent other dancers/choreographers when it comes to protecting their rights or licensing their work. Given how diffuse internet culture is, and how fast trends move, it’s an important step for dance creators to get some means of protecting their intellectual property. All it takes is one TikTok video of a dance lifted from a struggling artist to go viral and the original authorship is seemingly lost to time in an instant. Now at the very least they may have a chance to put their name to their work and hopefully see some money from it, and that is all a lot of creators can hope for these days.