The Minimamura Saga - Part 1. by Mathilde Pavis

The Minimamura Saga – Part 1

The following post is written by a lawyer who was generously invited to observe Chisato Minimamura and her team work with three performers for the purpose of a dance lab in Coventry in June 2014. This post is the first one of a series of comments on the copyright framework supporting (or not) Chisato’s Minimamura’s practice.

The ‘works’ of Minimamura’s dance practice

For the purpose of her practice as dance artist and choreographer, Chisato Minimamura designed her own notation system so that she could efficiently communicate her choreography to her performers. In collaboration with a graphic designer (Nick Rothwell), Minimamura’s ‘scores’ were made part of an app, where they are displayed in a parallel with a video of the performance. For those familiar the software Guitar Pro Tab, the concept of the app is not dissimilar.

Minimamura’s practice thus led to the creation of various instruments supporting her working environment. To sum up, in addition to the choreographic piece itself, the dance artist designed a method of notation and an app. Eager to share her practice with the world, Minimamura and her team legitimately wonder where the laws of intellectual property stand with regard to the protection of these three different aspects of her practice. In response to these concerns, this post will briefly touch upon the legal protection surrounding the dance, the app and the notation themselves.

Minimamura’s dance - Choreographic works are artistic creations protectable by copyright under Section 3(1) CDPA 1988.(1) So long that they can be fixed in writing or otherwise (e.g. videotaped), their author (the choreographer) is able to prevent others from copying its original elements. As mentioned before and described further below, Minimamura’s App works in combination with the scores and a video record of the dance. When captured by the App or the video recording alone, Minimamura’s choreographic works are complying with the fixation requirement and, as such, are protected by copyright law. A later post will examine the ability of her scores to fully capture the work for it to satisfy this legal condition of fixation.

Minimamura’s notation system – Minimamura designed a sophisticated notation method to facilitate the communication with her performers. A video of Minimamura explaining her notation system is available here. Her notation transcribes most of the choreography to be performed by her dancers, but not all of it. Using a system of layers, the scores indicate the individual sequence each dancer is to perform (layer 1) and the direction of their sequence in space, on the stage (layer 2). When comparing or overlapping all individual sequences (or layers), one can get a sense of when the performers’ segments are synchronised and when they are not. It is important to note that, Minimamura’s notation does not translate the specific leg, arm and body movements of each step composing the sequence. The choreographer would have agreed with her dancer on what constitutes step 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on beforehand, so that the notation she hands out to them will only refer to the combination of those steps (e.g. 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 -), not the steps themselves. In short, Minimamura’s steps work in pair with the performers’ memory of the steps, so much so that one could not intellectually re-create her choreography from reading the notation in the same manner a trained musician would be able to perform the sound of a musical composition from its scores.

When laid out on paper or on screen, the scores may be eligible to copyright protection for their graphic or visual attributes rather than their purpose as communication or notation method. In this hypothesis, Minimamura’s scores would to be associated to what the law regards as being an ‘artistic work’ (Section 4 CDPA 1988) for they combine ‘drawings’, ‘diagrams’, ‘plans’ and sui generis ‘maps’ (Section 4(2) CDPA 1988), elements which are all encompassed under the umbrella term of ‘artistic work’. This approach to the scores would however not protect the choreographer against other artists re-using her method, but only prevent them from copying the visual of each chorographic scores she writes. Copyright being ‘product-centric’ is unfit to protect communication, teaching or learning methods, alphabets or languages. Its protection is focused on and limited to the expression of the languages or methods (their ‘products’), not the languages or methods themselves. The distinction may be subtle but its practical consequences are a significant. Alternative legal protections such as patents would have to be considered to envisage legally ‘locking up’ Minimamura’s original scoring system as a method.

Minimamura’s App - As explained above, the App articulates Minimamura’s notation system with a video record of a performance of the dance. As such, the App is likely to be considered a collective work composed of at least three elements copyrightable independently: the code (which underpins the App itself), the video and the notations. There is however no certainty here since the Courts remain reluctant to engage with complex layering of rights which would turn copyright protection into an unpractical legal ‘millefeuille’.(2) The eligibility of the notation system to copyright protection was dealt with in the previous paragraph, leaving us with the code which runs the App and the video. Since both of these types of work (computer software and films) are protected intellectual creations in virtue of sections 3(1)(b) and 5B of the CDPA 1988, there is little doubt as to the copyrightability of these two cases, so long that they are not copies of previous protected works.

Conclusion – This note briefly dissected Minimamura’s practice from a copyright perspective by identifying the various creative ‘products’ it generated, before examining their respective eligibility to copyright protection. My next post will focus on Minimamura’s scores as a suitable fixation method of her work for copyright purposes.

(1) CDPA 1998 refers to the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
(2) Laddie J refuses to enforce what would amount to be a ‘millefeuilles with layers of different artistic copyrights’ (referring to the copyright protection of magazine covers) in IPC Media v Highbury-SPL Publishing Ltd [2004] All ER (D) 342 at [23]. Position confirmed by Blackburne J. in Coffey v Warner/Chappell Music Ltd and others - [2005] All ER (D) 329 at [10].

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