Music and Dance: Beyond Copyright Text?

Award Holder

Professor Charlotte Waelde

Higher Education Institute

School of Law, University of Edinburgh

How does the law protect and promote the work of those who create innovative forms of music and dance? Think of the collaborative and performance based music and dance genres that make up so much of contemporary creativity in this field such as the saxophone improvisations of Anthony Braxston, the mash-up culture of contemporary popular dance music, digital musical sampling, and Edouard Lock’s ballet, Amjad. Many assume that the law of copyright enables the creators of such experience-based works to exert control over their outputs and, relatedly, to obtain a monetary return from exploitation. But is that really the case? In 1710 the law of copyright emerged as a property right giving the power to exert control over the printed word. This law has, ever since, exhibited an obsession with text and text-based creations. Where does that leave extempore or carefully crafted creations not recorded in writing and which also demand immediate audience participation for full appreciation of nuances embedded within the performance?

Through the observation and recording of selected forms of music and dance and the interview-based investigation of underlying creative processes, this project will seek to determine whether the law really is apt to protect these types of works. It will analyse the findings in relation to contemporary discourse on cultural policy and cultural economics showing how these shape understandings of the role of the ‘creative economy’. The project will consider how creative economy thinking relates to copyright and intersects (or not) with the music and dance forms studied. In so doing this project aims to deepen understanding of how innovative art forms might best be protected by law and exploited by their creators, ensuing they remain part of our rich and culturally diverse creative heritage.


Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.