About a year ago, I wrote my very first blog regarding copyright protection for choreography. In that post, I explained that even though dance is one of the world’s oldest art forms, the legal framework around copyright protection for choreography is still one of the least developed around. And, as our loyal readers will recall, the combination of law nerd/ex-dancer in me affectionately wished for the day that we would see a courtroom battle over choreography theft. Unfortunately for Beyoncé, the countdown may be over. (Cheesy pun intended.)

Most of you had probably never heard of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a Belgian contemporary dance choreographer. That is, until the recent release of Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video. Almost immediately following the release of “Countdown,” Beyoncé faced allegations that she stole the choreography featured in her video from two of De Keersmaeker’s contemporary works, Rosas danst Rosas (1993) and Achterland (1990). While Beyoncé admits that De Keersmaeker’s works were “one of the inspirations used to bring the feel and look of the song to life,” her official statement — no doubt vetted by a team of lawyers — was careful not to admit that she (or, more appropriately, her team) actually copied De Keersmaeker’s choreography. Thanks to YouTube and those of you out there with way too much time on your hands, however, we can analyze De Keersmaeker’s claims for ourselves and determine whether “Countdown” crosses the line between inspiration and imitation.

First, take a look at Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video:


And then take a look at De Keersmaeker’s works featured in this split-screen comparison:


Yeah, that’s kind of hard to explain away.

Although De Keersmaeker claims that she is neither upset nor honored that Beyoncé copied her dance moves, she made a point to say that “there are protocols and consequences to such actions, and I can’t imagine [Beyoncé] and her team are not aware of it.” Is De Keersmaeker right about those consequences? That is, does Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video infringe De Keersmaeker’s copyright in her choreography? Let’s recap some of the things we have learned here at Law Law Land.
Continue Reading 10, 9, 8…Lawsuit? The Blow Up Over Beyoncé’s “Countdown” Choreography

Curt Sachs once said that “dance is the mother of the arts.” Sounds very eloquent, doesn’t it? You can’t help but think of a beautiful ballerina gracefully cascading along the stage, performing in front of an adorning audience. Now, take this quote and those serene images, place them on train tracks, wait for speeding train to hit, and…boom! You now have Dance Moms, Lifetime’s latest so-called reality show and voyeuristic indulgence featuring infamous dance studio owner Abby Lee Miller, several of her young dancers, and their overbearing moms. The show appears to be loosely scripted, at best, to contrive needless drama and controversy. Does anyone seriously believe that these moms were genuinely outraged by the “wildly inappropriate” costumes their daughters were wearing? Pah-lease!


Not surprising that the best they could do was Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. (Although we can all be grateful to the show for helping to bring the phrase “prosti-tots” into the vernacular. So, you know, thanks for that.)

Before I write any further, I should probably confess that I am both a former dance competition kid and, by definition, a dance mom. Like the Abby Lee dancers, my 11-year old daughter dances nearly 20 hours a week, performs in nine group routines and two solos, and attends many of the dance competitions and conventions featured by Lifetime. So, are the rest of us dance moms angry that the show entirely ignores the positives of youth dance in favor of gross sensationalization? That it fails to point out that, instead of coming home from school and sitting on the couch playing video games, these dance kids are getting incredible exercise, learning an art form, gaining performance skills, building self-confidence and creating life-long friendships? That it ignores how the drive and ambition these kids build as young dancers will launch them into a variety of successful, non-dance careers? Absolutely. Am I writing this blog to express my distain for Lifetime’s unfair and irresponsible depiction of the dance world? Maybe. But behind all the pirouettes, the show raises some interesting and novel legal issues. Really.
Continue Reading Trying to Stay Off a Reality TV Show? Maybe Try Dancing Whenever the Cameras Are Around!

Even before Natalie Portman won her Best Actress Oscar for her role in Black Swan, critics and audiences alike were buzzing about her disturbing performance as a dedicated-but-delusional prima ballerina. Recently, however, the discussion of Portman’s performance has taken a turn towards the controversial, as Sarah Lane — an American Ballet Theater soloist and one of Portman’s Black Swan dance doubles — has emerged with allegations that Portman did just 5% of the full body dance shots seen in the finished film.

Lane claims she is the victim of a “cover-up” by the filmmakers. Although she commends Portman for trying “to go method” and losing “a lot of weight” for the film, Lane blasts her single’s dancing (if Lane is Portman’s double, doesn’t that make Portman Lane’s single?), saying Portman didn’t look “at all” like a professional dancer and couldn’t even dance in pointe shoes. Lane’s comments came just days after Portman’s choreographer-slash-baby-daddy Benjamin Millepied boasted to the Los Angeles Times that Lane did only a very minimal amount of dancing in the film and that “Honestly, 85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” Since Lane made her “5%” claim, however, the film’s producers, director and co-stars have come to Portman’s defense, with director Darren Aronofsky issuing a statement yesterday saying that of the 139 dance shots in the film, 111 — or, 80% — are Portman untouched, and when you consider screen time, 90% of the dancing is Portman.

Even if all the “did she or didn’t she” discussion surrounding Portman’s Oscar and dance performance misses the real issue — namely, that this should have been Annette Benning’s year — it did get me thinking about the use of doubles in film, and what potential legal claims actors and their doubles might have when situations like this arise.
Continue Reading Double Trouble: What Black Swan, The Exorcist, and Maria from West Side Story Have in Common

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled against Chippendales in its efforts to trademark its well-known “cuffs-and-collars” male stripper garb, spawning headlines like “Chippendales rebuffed in trademark bid” (Los Angeles Times) and “Chippendales fails to trademark outfit” ( The truth is something far more nuanced and technical than that: in
Continue Reading Chippendales Loses a Legal Decision That Isn’t Really Interesting; Here’s an Awesome Chris Farley Sketch

In my former lifetime, before I was a lawyer, I was a dancer (little-known fact — lawyers have hobbies and histories unrelated to the majesty of the law!). From my very first “bumble bee” recital routine to my internship with one of the premiere dance agents in Los Angeles, dance has consumed my life in every way imaginable. I shamelessly admit that, for me, even college drinking games often involved fouetté competitions with my dancer friends. But now that 4 a.m. rehearsals for Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade have been replaced with late night brief writing marathons, like many other former dancers turned dance moms, I am thrilled by the resurgence of dance in pop culture. From So You Think You Can Dance to America’s Best Dance Crew, dance is undeniably hot right now. (Hey, it wasn’t long ago that the best we could get were the Fly Girls on In Living Color.)

The popularity of primetime dance shows has given choreographers a much-needed platform to showcase their talents and share their works with the world. For those of you who tuned into Season 7 of SYTYCD, no one will ever forget ballet dancer Alex Wong smashing Tabitha & Napoleon’s hip hop routine Outta Your Mind with all-star tWitch, or Robert Roldan and Allison Holker’s stunning performance of Travis Wall’s contemporary number Fix You. But for every piece of brilliance we are given from the likes of Mia Michaels, Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio or Dave Scott, just to name a few, there will be hundreds of knock-offs that blur the line between inspiration and imitation. I can’t even count the numerous renditions of Bob Fosse’s Steam Heat I have seen since the mid-80s, some absolutely fabulous, and many others…well, not so much. (For those of you familiar with the dance world circa 1985, how many horrific lyrical numbers did we have to sit through to Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love) and I Sing the Body Electric? And for those of you who aren’t, I promise you that was an awesome and highly-recognizable reference.) While many choreographers frequently voice complaints that “they” copied “my” piece, there is very little discussion regarding the legal implications of “borrowing” someone else’s choreography. And, unfortunately, this may be for good reason.
Continue Reading So You Think You Can Steal My Dance? Copyright Protection in Choreography