Though some have stepped up to copyright their moves and few have tip-toed into courts, with the expected differing results, noted choreographer  Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker appears unfazed by the infrequency of such cases and has decided to tango with pop diva Beyonce. The Belgian artist has sued the American superstar, asserting she plagiarized dance moves from two films, Rosas danst Rosas and Achterland, for the Beyonce Countdown music video. A comparative clip on YouTube (above) shows key sequences from both films and music video to highlight their similarities.

As reported by Eriq Gardner for The Hollywood Reporter, Esq., the case presents an interesting opportunity to assess the degree to which choreography has received copyright protection in the United States.

The U.S. Copyright Office says choreography can be submitted for registration so long as it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed.”  This includes film or video.

Data reported by THR, Esq., was gathered by the Register of Copyrights and shows that, in 2009, 545 of the 424,427 copyright registrations were for “Dramatic Works, Choreography, and Pantomimes.”  This was a 98% decline from a decade ago, underscoring Gardner’s view that Keersmaeker may be setting something of a legal “trend.”

It works to the choreographer’s advantage that both dances are fixed in film, making it easier for a judge to potentially  assess the originality of the moves and determine substantial similarity.   Keersmaeker must clear the defense hurdles of fair use and transformative works before a court finds that the music video infringed on her choreography.

Since the news of the case broke, Beyonce has said that “[c]learly the ballet Rosas Danst Rosas was one of many references for the video. It was one of the inspirations to bring the song to life.”

The case raises questions: In a medium of expression where so many artists look to each other for inspiration, how feasible is it to determine the originality of choreography? Should Michael Jackson have gone after Justin Timberlake, Usher and a myriad of other pop artists that came after him, as they were all clearly inspired by his “original” dance moves?

Such “inspirations” are what make the intersection of intellectual property and the creative world tricky at times;  they certainly provide fodder for chatter not just by aficionados but also by entertainment lawyers and law students.