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Can Dance Be Protected by Copyright?

Can Dance Be Protected by Copyright?


Ever wondered what category of copyright protects dance? Obviously, it does not fall under artistic works―definitely not musical works. Literary works? Well, let’s see.


Early this year in February, Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played Carlton on the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” sued Take-Two and Epic Games for using his Carlton dance in their respective video games. However, the U.S. Copyright office refused to grant him copyright to the dance as a mere swaying of hips – which was the whole idea of Carlton dance – has no originality or creativity.


Like every other work under copyright, dance is underpinned by originality and creativity. Section 26 of Nigeria’s Copyright Act 2004 (under the separate category of Neighbouring Rights – dubbed related rights in some jurisdictions) protects dance as intellectual property. Particularly, in 26 (2) (a) of the same Act, dance is categorized under dramatic performance, and the copyright subsists for fifty years after the first public performance of it.


If, however, the dance steps are written down in compositions, they fall under “literary work”, particularly under “choreographic works” under Section 39 of Copyright Act. So, to the initial question, dance falls under dramatic performance when performed and under literary works when in written composition.

Moses OLANREWAJU

For the research team, IPTLCUI

2 thoughts on “Can Dance Be Protected by Copyright?”

  1. Copyright protects the expression of an idea. Dances can be similar but something strikes them out from each other. The “Soapy” dance for examples portrays an idea, no matter how risque it may be.

    The idea behind the dance sets it apart and the expression needs protection.

    If you follow the opera; you’d realise that a story is mostly being told. All the dance steps are in narration of the story.

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