Beyoncé accused of copyright infringement by Belgian choreographer

The Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has claimed that certain dance moves in the music video
for Beyoncé’s new single ‘Countdown’ are “pure plagiarism”.

Beyoncé has acknowledged that sequences in the ‘Countdown’ video were inspired by De Keersmaeker’s ballet
company Rosas Danst Rosas, amongst other influences such as Andy Warhol and the Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face, stating “clearly 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”.  However, De Keersmaeker has said that neither Beyoncé nor the video’s co-director, Adria Petty, sought permission to copy her work prior to shooting the video.

In the UK, dances are protected by copyright legislation subject to fulfilling certain criteria.  Under section 3 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, copyright subsists in a “dramatic work” (which includes a work of dance or mime) so long as it is “fixed” (i.e. recorded in writing or otherwise).  The term “dramatic work” has been interpreted by the courts to mean a “work of action” that is “capable of being performed”.

In plain English, this means that for a dance to be protected by copyright it must be an original non-static work
which is recorded in writing or otherwise (e.g. filmed) and has a sufficient degree of specificity or “unity” such that each performance is substantially the same.  De Keersmaeker’s filmed work Achterland, which won the Dance Screen award in 1994, appears to fulfil these criteria and, according to The Guardian, certain sequences in the ‘Countdown’ video do “strongly resemble” Achterland.  It would therefore appear that the copyright in De Keersmaeker’s work may have been infringed, subject to the usual copyright requirement of substantiality of copying.

This is not the first time this year that Beyoncé has been accused of infringing copyright in a dramatic work
after the dancing and visual effects used during her performance of ‘Run The World (Girls)’ at the Billboard Music Awards in May was compared to work by the Italian dancer Lorella Cuccarini.  However, whether or not De Keersmaeker brings a claim for copyright infringement in relation to the ‘Countdown’ video remains to be seen.

Please contact us for more information or advice on copyright protection and infringement of rights.

Peter Bott
Trainee Solicitor

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