Unveiling the Rhythm: Copyrightability of Choreographic Works in India

In the captivating realm of the performing arts, dance stands as a profound expression of human emotions, culture, and creativity. Each graceful movement, intricate step, and coordinated gesture embody the artist’s imagination and skill. Yet, amidst the mesmerizing world of dance, lies a pertinent question: Are Choreographic works in India copyrightable? This article delves into the intriguing landscape of copyright law in India, exploring the copyrightability of choreographic works and acknowledging the significance of dance choreography as an integral component of intellectual property.

To comprehend the copyright framework surrounding choreographic works in India, it is imperative to first grasp the concept of copyright itself. Copyright law serves as a fundamental safeguard for creators, granting them exclusive rights over their original artistic works. Historically, copyright protection has predominantly been associated with literary, musical, and visual works, often overshadowing the realm of dance. However, as artistic expressions continue to evolve, legal systems worldwide are now faced with the challenge of adapting copyright law to accommodate the dynamic art form of dance.

In the context of India, renowned for its rich cultural heritage and diverse dance forms, the question of whether choreographic works warrant copyright protection has gained considerable attention. Dance choreography, as an intricate blend of body movements, spatial arrangements, and creative concepts, undoubtedly represent an original artistic expression deserving of recognition and protection.

Decoding the Indian Copyright Landscape

Section 2(h) of The Copyright Act 1957, concerns the copyrightability of ‘dramatic works’ which are defined as “any piece of recitation, choreographic work or entertainment in dumb show, the scenic arrangement or acting, form of which is fixed in writing or otherwise but does not include a cinematograph film”. It is clear from a plain reading of the above mentioned provision that dance falls under the ambit of dramatic works to be eligible for copyright protection in India. When we examine the ambit of this section through the lens of choreographic works we realise that firstly, the choreographic work has to be reduced in writing for it to be eligible for protection as the section clearly excludes cinematograph film or videotaping. Secondly, the words ‘or otherwise’ are vague and there is little to no clarity available through precedents or literature for the same. These issues leave an artist looking for protection at crossroads. Moreover, on an analysis of the term ‘cinematograph film’ under section 2(f) of the Act, it becomes clear that all forms of video recording fall under the ambit of a cinematograph film.

Section 2(xxa) of the Act defines “Visual recording” as “the recording in any medium, by any method including the storing of it by any electronic means, of moving images or of the representations thereof, from which they can be perceived, reproduced or communicated by any method.”

Despite the provisions for copyright protection of choreographic works under the Indian Copyright Act, there exists a growing discrepancy between traditional methods of fixation and the evolving technological landscape. In today’s digital age, individuals often opt to record their dance performances through videography, considering it a more convenient and accurate means of preservation. The requirement of “putting it down in writing” as a form of fixation, while valid under the current law, can be seen as redundant and can inadvertently act as a barrier to providing the much-deserved protection to dance artists.Videotaping choreography not only captures the precise movements and gestures but also encompasses the overall visual experience, including spatial arrangements, expressions, and the intended artistic message. This comprehensive audio-visual format allows for a more accurate representation of the choreographer’s vision and facilitates a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work. On the other hand, relying solely on written documentation of choreographic steps can lead to ambiguity and variations in interpretation, as individuals may comprehend and reproduce the dance differently based on their own understanding.

As far as Indian precedence is concerned on the matter, The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of  Academy of General Education, Manipal and Anr. v. B. Manini Mallya provided protection to the ballet dance choreography only because it was reduced to writing and hence the fate of choreographic works not reduced to writing is unclear.

Global Perspectives: Videography as a Legitimate Form of Fixation, Learning from International Copyright Practices.

Several countries have recognized the significance of videographic fixation for choreographic works, aligning their copyright laws with evolving technology and artistic practices. For instance, in the United States, the Copyright Act recognizes videotaping as an acceptable form of fixation for choreographic works. This recognition acknowledges the inherent value of visual representation and the need to adapt copyright laws to the technological advancements that enhance the preservation and dissemination of dance creations.Similarly, countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have embraced the use of video recordings as a legitimate means of fixing and protecting choreographic works. By doing so, they acknowledge the advantages of audio-visual formats in capturing the essence of dance and ensuring a more accurate and comprehensive preservation of the choreographer’s vision.

As technology continues to shape our creative practices and facilitate broader accessibility, it becomes increasingly crucial for copyright laws in India to adapt and incorporate video recordings as a recognized form of fixation for choreographic works.

Preserving performer’s rights and fair use

Section 38 of the Copyright Act, 1957 provides protection to performers against any infringement against reproduction broadcasting, or communication of sound or visual recordings to the public, without the consent of the performer. In the case of Anupama Mohan v. State of Kerala the court provided protection to the copyright holders against the video recording of the dance performance without their consent.

The only exception to the protection provided under the copyright act is the fair use doctrine which is enshrined in Section 52 of the Copyright Act. A work is not considered an infringement of copyright if it is used for research or private study or the performance of such work was done in the course of any bona fide religious ceremony or an official ceremony held by the Central Government or the State Government or any local authority.


The recognition and protection of choreographic works as intellectual property are crucial for preserving cultural heritage and nurturing artistic creativity in the realm of dance. While the Indian Copyright Act provides provisions for such protection, the requirement of written fixation poses a barrier in the digital age. To foster India’s vibrant dance heritage, it is vital for the country’s copyright laws to adapt and recognize videographic fixation. This recognition empowers artists, encourages innovation, and ensures the preservation of diverse dance forms. By embracing an adaptable copyright framework, we honor the transformative power of dance and create a more inclusive and vibrant future for the art form in India.

Ananya Garg


Penultimate year law student at O.P. Jindal Global University

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.