Q: I am a studio owner and have recently had to terminate the employment of an instructor. She is now demanding that I pay her $100 per minute for the rights to her choreography or else I cannot use the dances. Can she do this? She was a true employee, NOT a contract employee. It is my understanding that my studio owns those dances. Please advise!
A: Generally, the rule is that the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author, however there is an exception to that rule. United States copyright law states that if a work is "made for hire," then the employer, not the employee, is considered the author. If creating choreography for dances was part of the scope of the teacher's job—and if the dances in question were actually created during her employment with your studio—your studio owns the rights to that work.
To prevent any future misunderstandings, your best bet is to develop a written agreement that clearly states who will own and retain the rights to perform and duplicate any works created. You may want to consult with your own legal counsel to determine what is right for your business.
At our studio, we have always given credit to the choreographer of each routine in printed programs or at performances and competitions, even when a teacher is no longer employed. Attributing the teacher’s work is gracious and honors their contribution as an artist.
Further resource: "Works Made for Hire Under the 1976 Copyright Act" www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf
Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com.