International Dance Day: Dancing and Indonesian Copyright Law

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Since 1983, April 29th has been declared by UNESCO as International Dance Day. This is the time for member states of the UN to observe and celebrate the art form of dancing—commonly marked by the event titled “The Gala Celebration”, which takes place in alternating host cities each year. International Dance Day serves to remind us of the universal power of dancing by enticing cultures around the world to showcase their own unique moves.

Dancing, like songs, books and paintings are art works or creative products from a creator, often with financial value embedded in it. Thus, as some might not know, dancing is subjected to copyright protection.

While normal copyright norms do include dancing as protected works, it’s important to note that what qualifies for protection may slightly differ depending on the territories. For example, in the US, individual dance steps or movements are not protected by copyright law. What qualifies for protection are forms of choreographic works, which are defined as a series of movements and patterns organized into an overall composition. Meanwhile, in other countries such as Indonesia, such distinctions are not specified.

Despite so, dancing is still subjected to the common requirements for IP protection. To qualify for copyright, a choreographic work or a dance must be an original, creative product of the choreographer’s, and not a copy of a previously existing choreography. Additionally, the choreographic work or dance must be in a fixed or a tangible medium of expression, and not merely an unexpressed idea.

Dancing in Indonesian Copyright

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago is home to hundreds of unique ethnic groups, and most of them have their own form of culture. This diversity has gifted Indonesia with a wealth of riches in terms of traditional dances– from the Jaipongan, Saman, Tor-Tor, and so much more. Given the breadth of unique dances embedded in the culture, it’s not surprise that dancing is a valued practice in Indonesia and is protected by copyright. Article 40 of Law of the Republic of Indonesia No. 28 of 2014 on Copyright, includes “dramatic works, musical dramas, dances, choreography, puppet shows, pantomimes” as works protected by Copyright.

However, it’s important to note that the aforementioned traditional dances that defined much of Indonesian culture are not copyrighted works that can be owned by an individual. As a “traditional work”, such dances are subjected to Article 38 of Indonesian Copyright Law, which regulates that the copyright of traditional cultural expressions is held by the State, and that the state is obligated to take inventory, preserve, and maintain traditional cultural expressions. The matter of conserving the copyright of traditional dances has been an increasingly discussed issue in recent times. For example, as part of the “IP Tourism” program, Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights highlighted Kecak Bali dance as a communally owned IP that must be maintained by the state. Meanwhile, the Bangka government recently declared their commitment in protecting a number of their cultural heritage, including the Kedidi dance.

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