So I was diving head-first into monkey-selfie research when I stumbled upon a rather developed definition of choreography vs. dance. It’s important to know the difference when there’s money on the line:
Choreographic works: The term “choreography” is derived from the Greek words “choreia,” meaning “dance,” and “graphikos,” meaning “to write.” A dance is a static and kinetic succession of bodily movements in certain rhythmic and spatial relationships and in relation to time and space. Choreography is the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into a coherent whole. Choreography is not synonymous with dance. It is a discrete subset of dance that encompasses certain types of compositional dances. For example, the legislative history for the 1976 Copyright Act states that “‘choreographic works’ do not include social dance steps and simple routines.” See H.R. REP.NO. 94-1476, at 54 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5659, 5667; S. REP. NO. 94-473, at 52 (1975).
The U.S. Copyright Office has a job to do, I know. The 1,222-page draft report “Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices” released earlier this month is the first major update to the rules in more than two decades. Defining art forms is tricky business. A tip of the hat to Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante and friends for the effort. They really know how to cause beautiful creations to wither into dry definitions. Oh, the power of words. Thankfully, dance doesn’t have to be so black-and-white. In fact, that’s the joy of dance. You can be enamored by a ballerina’s strength and grace and then turn around to be astonished by a break boy’s super-human balance and flow. Whew, that’s some party you’ve been invited to!
Turns out, the monkey selfie cannot be copyrighted. Tough luck for the photographer! But great that everyone can use this curious creature’s handiwork.
In case you’re wondering, this Ars Technica piece explains the ruling from the copyright regulators about the “photograph taken by a monkey.” Isn’t it refreshing when non-humans get involved in very human matters like currency and ownership?