What studio owner wants to spend time thinking about the worst that can happen? Yet as the dance studio business continues to expand, the number of dance studio–related scandals seems to grow in proportion: Sexual abuse allegations make headlines, copycat studios pop up around the corner and "borrowed" choreography winds up onstage at the next competition. Thinking through a crisis management plan ahead of time and adopting wise risk-reduction strategies will help protect the hard-earned success you've achieved. Read on for three studio scenarios and the steps to appropriately deal with them and prevent them from happening at all.
When Another Studio Steals Your Choreography
If you discover that your choreography has been stolen by another studio or choreographer and passed off as original material, issue a polite letter or e-mail to the studio, asking that the choreographer stop using and performing your material, or else give you credit and payment for it. Explain that you are happy to work out a licensing arrangement, for a fee, for any future use of your work. Note that if a piece of choreography is created by an employee of your studio, that dance piece belongs to the studio, unless an explicit provision has been made in a faculty member's employment contract. If the choreography is created by a guest artist, however, that material belongs to him or her—unless otherwise stipulated in a contract.
Julie Van Camp, lawyer and retired ethics professor at California State University, Long Beach, recommends the following plan of action to reduce intellectual property theft:
• Make a video of the piece in its entirety and post it on YouTube, with a copyright notice, posting date and performance date.
• Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office (about $35—see copyright.gov), using the video.
The next step in an intellectual property case would be to pursue an infringement claim, but Van Camp warns that this is expensive and difficult, since it requires hiring an attorney who specializes in intellectual property, and the originality of the work would have to be sorted out in litigation—a tricky situation in itself, since dance plagiarism is difficult to prove and lacks a clear, legal definition. Furthermore, it's hard to nail down damages—how much money, exactly, was lost as a result of the choreography theft? Can you accurately and convincingly quantify that amount in tuition or number of students?
Slippery scenarios such as these can be tricky to navigate, but that doesn't mean they can't be dealt with professionally and confidently. A well-prepared studio owner won't need to waste time putting together a crisis plan when actual disaster strikes—she'll already be busy putting it into action.