Mortal Copyright Kombat: Is there Copyright in Choreography?

A game developer incorporates martial arts moves into a new video game. Is the choreography of those moves protectable by copyright?   The answer is, apparently, yes. 

The 1997 decision in Ahn v. Midway Manufacturing Co., 965 F. Supp. 1134 (N.D. Ill. 1997) decided that under US law, certain martial arts routines fell within the subject matter of copyright.  In that case, a software developer hired dancers to create moves which were later incorporated into the well-known game “Mortal Kombat”. A dispute arose about the ownership of the routines, but the dancers had assigned their rights to the software developer under a written contract, so they could not maintain a claim for joint ownership.  The 2005 US decision in Open Source Yoga Unity v. Choudhury, 2005 WL 756558 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2005) suggests that yoga moves can be eligible for copyright protection.

Does this apply in Canada as well?  Yes, in Pastor v. Chen, 2002 BCPC 169 (CanLII), the court reviewed a dispute about dance routines, and decided that the “uniquely choreographed moves and dance styles” were properly covered by copyright.  Game developers should take care to get advice whenever incorporating choreographed elements into their applications.  And the next time you’re on the dance floor, just be sure not to infringe the copyright in anyone’s new dance moves.

Calgary – 09:00 MST

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  1. […] Choreography is about dance moves. It is the arrangement of dance moves, usually in patterns, accompanied by music. Are these dance moves protected by copyright? The argument out there is that they are, even when placed in games. […]

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