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Can you copyright performing arts?

You know that copyrights protect things like novels and photographs. These solid works of art are owned by their creators in most cases, unless that ownership is sold -- in the case of a commissioned work, for instance. But what about the performing arts? Do those get the same protection?

They do. These works, which are meant to be performed for the viewer, still need protection in the same way that any other work of art does. Perhaps the most obvious example is a motion picture. It is a type of performance art, but it is also recorded and distributed in a way that makes illegal copying possible. As such, laws are in place to ensure that this theft and distribution does not happen.

However, it's not just about works of art that get recorded on DVD. Performing arts, per the U.S. Copyright Office, can include a "wide variety of creative works." Some of the examples that they list include:

  • Lyrics
  • Music
  • Scripts
  • Sound recordings
  • Video games
  • Screenplays
  • Choreography

Some of these works are more obviously protected than others. For instance, it's easy to lump video games and music recordings in with motion pictures. Some other elements, like choreography, are far different. A production cannot steal the choreography from another production for its own use, even though this is purely intellectual property and may not represent any physical item. It's still important that the creator of that artistic expression knows their work cannot be used by someone else.

If you find yourself involved in a dispute over any of these elements, make sure you know what rights you have.

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