What is a dance worth?

As dance relies more on corporate support, the question has arisen who owns a dance. Is the choreographer the owner as an independent creator, or are the choreographers mere employees of a larger organization?

Martha Graham left her dance work in her will to an heir, but a federal district court ruled against the will; she had sold her dance school and its name to other parties, arguably selling the dances as well. The ruling is now under appeal. Joffrey Ballet faces similar issues. See this discussion of the “work for hire” doctrine in the context of music.

“This is definitely a success problem,” says one dance director, “These problems would never have existed 50 years ago, because the concept of a penny being made by a choreographer or from a dance was unheard of.”

The dilemma again shows how far copyright law is behind the times. An economic approach would suggest rewarding the rights to the parties whose contributions create the most value at the margin. If dance geniuses are especially scarce, and responsive to monetary incentives, this would argue for granting the rights to the dance creator.

From “Dance and Profit: Who Gets It?”, The New York Times, September 20, 2003, click here to buy the article.


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