A few years back, we wrote about the guy who claimed to have invented The Electric Slide
sending DMCA takedown notices
to people who put up videos of people (at weddings, for example) dancing the dance. Eventually, the EFF sued and the guy backed down
, but it looks like we haven't seen the end of aggressive enforcement of copyright control over choreography. Mockingbird
writes in to let us know of a story talking about the recent death of choreographer Merce Cunningham, which focuses on how his estate is moving rapidly to execute a plan
concerning the intellectual property he held in his dances. After discussing one of his famous routines that involved (literally) rolling some dice to determine the sequence, the article notes:
Yet, in a press conference held in Cunningham's dance studio shortly before his death, Fishman announced, "The future of his life's work cannot be left to chance."
And from there, we get statements such as:
Cunningham, according to board member Allan Sperling, "wanted clarity with respect to the ownership, control, and continuity of his choreography." Mr. Sperling adds, "He wanted it to be in the hands of those he trusted to carry out his philosophy and approach." The trust, which has meticulously documented his works, controls licensing of revivals. "Presumably," Sperling says, "the trustees will set standards for the way the work is performed."
From there, the article branches off into a discussion on copyright. While it gets some of the facts wrong (claiming that copyright exists to protect an artist's income, rather than the truth: it exists to create an incentive to create), it at least tries to balance some of the questions, discussing things like Creative Commons and the public domain. It also discusses exactly how other choreographers have been held back by copyright:
New York choreographer Jane Comfort has been inhibited artistically in the past by copyright barriers. She now commissions new scores for her dances rather than attempting to use copyrighted music. "It is stultifying and difficult," she says. "The music industry and literary estates can be really tough."
The article also quotes numerous other creative types hoping to get away from copyright and the hoops and hurdles people need to go through to create:
Contemporary composer Joel Durand, a professor of composition at the University of Washington in Seattle, knows composers rely on royalties for income but says, "I wish we were not so obsessively entrenched in our little discoveries." He'd like his work to be freely available since, Durand says, "Everything we do is universal in a spiritual way. It all belongs to everybody because it doesn't come from us as individuals." Works "of an aesthetic nature," he adds, are produced "in collaboration with the world, and the creator should offer it to all rather than clasp their fists around their thought for gain."
Holby, too, wonders if unfettered access might flower into "a new Renaissance with everyone inspiring everyone else."
But... don't expect that to happen with Cunningham's work from the sound of things. Even though the article notes that when he was alive he embraced change, collaboration, innovation and new technologies -- it's difficult to square that with this whole idea of his estate carefully controlling and licensing his works. It's equally troubling to think that you can stop someone from dancing in a certain way just because someone else choreographed it first.