Disclaimer: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice or a legal opinion. It is for information purposes only. The base for all discussion is in Canadian common law, and copyright law varies internationally. If you need legal advice on a matter, consult a legal professional licensed in your area.
When should you credit?
If you use an artist’s work, credit it back. Always. Even if they don’t expect it. Even if you think they’ll never find it. Even if you don’t consider it ‘art’.
I’m not only talking about choreographies. I’m talking about photos, videos, costumes, music, and more. For example, cropping out the watermark on a photo or removing a DJ’s signature from a song remix. I’m also talking about written works – including my blog.
Usually, if we are re-using or re-creating something, it’s because we like or appreciate it. It’s incredibly flattering when someone enjoys what you do so much that they feel the need to share it with everyone else.
But, it leaves a sour taste when someone uses your work and eliminates any trace of where it came from. It turns a flattering feel-good into resentment at the appropriation of your work. It’s like telling a colleague about an idea you have, and then that colleague pitching your idea as their own to your boss.
Generally speaking, to credit ‘properly’, you should say:
- Who created it
- Where you found it
- How to find it again
- Laura Riva
- “Copyright for the Dance World”
- The Dancing Grapevine
- Link to the original article
Sometimes, the crediting is done for you by the original creator. For example, embedding a video from YouTube links back to the original. Or, a photographer may include their watermark on their pictures.
If in doubt, more credit is better than less credit. If you don’t know where it came from, say so.
One common misconception is that, if you put it in quotes, it’s ‘credit’. Well, not exactly. Putting it in “full quotes” just means it wasn’t your idea. It gives no credit to the original author – especially when the quotes are near invisible and around the entire text.
Otherwise, you’re that student who takes someone else’s essay, slaps on quotes at the beginning and end, and hopes no one notices they’re there. But, if someone does notice? “Well, I quoted it.”
Technically? Yes. But, you’re still failing that essay and possibly getting busted for plagiarism.
The Facebook ‘exception’
My go-to way of handling re-posts that don’t credit my work on Facebook is to send a nice, simple message asking them to please credit me. Most people say “Yes! Sorry, I forgot to do that!” and credit accordingly.
But, a few times, I’ve gotten a response like this:
“Well, it’s Facebook. If you post your work on here, I can do whatever I want with it. It’s fair game – you don’t get copyright anymore.”
To which my response usually goes something like this:
“Well, no. Speaking as a lawyer who spent a lot of time on copyright in social media during law school, I can tell you that you passing my work off as your own on Facebook is no different than passing my work off as your own anywhere else. If I share my work on Facebook, you have a license to re-share the work on Facebook. Not copy it. Not reproduce it. Not say you wrote it.”
Seriously. If you love someone’s work so much that you are re-uploading or re-posting it, don’t argue with them when they want you to credit them. It’s disrespectful and rude.
For more reading, check out Facebook’s help center and statement of rights and responsibilities.
“But what if there’s no copyright ‘symbol’?”
It doesn’t matter. Copyright is inherent in Canada, and most other jurisdictions. This means that someone doesn’t have to claim copyright; it exists automatically as soon as they make something.
So, that stick figure your niece drew of you dancing? Copyrighted.
“How do I know if I can reproduce or use something?”
If the person doesn’t have a statement about re-using work, ask them. It’s the easiest way. If you can’t ask them and you think it’s OK, credit them properly. But, if they contact you and ask you to take it down, do it.
This goes whether it’s a video, song, written work, or anything else.
Most dance bloggers are pretty open to translation – with credit. I know I am. If you’re unsure, asking is the best policy.
Photography / videography
Most photographers that post their photos or videos on Facebook are OK with the photo or video being used. On Facebook, you can always re-share the image or video. That doesn’t give you permission to re-upload it. Generally speaking, it’s also a best practice to not remove the watermark if you use a photo for your profile picture.
If you don’t like the fact that you’re in a photo or video, you can ask to have it removed, or untag yourself. Depending on the situation, you may be legally entitled to get it taken down – but most reasonable people will take it down if you ask.
Keep in mind that being photographed is usually something you agreed to in the Terms and Conditions when you bought your ticket to a dance event. At smaller venues, you can usually ask a photographer or videographer to not take footage of you directly.
If you take a video in a class, pay special attention to whether the teacher says you can upload it publicly. Usually, teachers are OK with dance demo’s being uploaded – but not video of them explaining a movement. With performances, the MC will usually announce if there’s a specific show that shouldn’t be filmed or posted. Sometimes, the venue will also have policies about non-official photography and videography.
Similarly, some authors or photographers may ask that their pictures or articles not be re-created or re-uploaded. If this is the case, don’t do it.
If someone asks that a photo, video, or other work not be uploaded or re-uploaded, respect it. If someone asks you to take a photo or video of them down, do.
A sequence of movements arranged in a unique order can have copyright. This means that choreographies have copyright. Using a move in a routine that you saw on someone else is probably fair game. However, using the sequence of movements moves towards infringing copyright.
Think of it like this: I can’t really copyright a word (though, I might be able to trademark it). But, I have copyright in my articles, which are an arrangement of words.
That’s why lots of people use the same lifts, but they don’t use the same choreographies.
People tend to get miffed when an audio track gets removed – but it is the artist’s (or production company’s) right. In a lot of cases, artists don’t mind (or even like it) when their music is used on a dance routine or demo. But, it’s still technically infringement in most cases, unless you have a license or permission to use the song.
Same goes with artists. Don’t be a pirate – buy the originals if possible. Most current artists have CD’s you can purchase, or will e-mail you the songs. Also, don’t sell other people’s songs. That’s rude.
Copyright law is way more complicated than one, small post on the matter. This is only meant to outline the basic concepts related to copyright that typically affect the dance community. I hope you found it a little interesting or useful!