Music and Dance - Beyond Copyright Text

Philip Schlesinger was co-investigator on the AHRC-funded study titled ‘Music and dance: beyond copyright text?’, funded as a network project in the ‘Beyond Text’ Programme. The principal investigator was Professor Charlotte Waelde of the School of Law at University of Exeter. This project – which drew together expertise in copyright law, cultural sociology, cultural economics, dance and musical composition - ran from 2009-2011 and apart from a series of seminar and conference presentations by the investigators it resulted in three major publications, whose abstracts are presented below:

Philip Schlesinger and Charlotte Waelde, Performers on the edge [video] Audiovisual thinking 2011 (3)

This documentary is one of the outcomes of a two-year research project into the precarious work situation of dancers and musicians in the UK. A major focus for us has been the extent to which the present copyright regime adequately addresses the production of experiential works in which performance plays a major role – music and dance being the cases in point. We have drawn on performances observed and recorded during our study as well as on interviews with artists and academics that participated in our investigation. Because this project was part of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Beyond Text’ Programme, we always wanted to produce an audiovisual record of our research as well as producing the conventional forms of academic textual output but we had never specified the form. It only dawned on us gradually that a short documentary would be the ideal way to do this.

Charlotte Waelde and Philip Schlesinger, ‘Music and dance: beyond copyright text?’ Scripted 2011 8(3): 257-291.

Are experiential, experimental forms of music and dance beyond protection by copyright? If they are, how might these art forms best be protected by cultural policy and cultural economics? These were the key questions that we set out to investigate with the support of a Beyond Text grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with the help of our network members where together we formed an interdisciplinary team comprised of experts in copyright law, cultural policy, cultural economics, dance and musical composition. Through a series of interviews with musicians, singers, songwriters, composers, dancers, choreographers and others involved in the music industry and dance community we came to the conclusion that these types of works are both before copyright and beyond copyright. They are before copyright because what matters to the majority of those involved is the process of creation – which itself is constantly evolving – rather than the product – the protected work once fixed. They are beyond copyright because key aspects of the performance involve contributions which are not recognised by copyright, and because there is much about the performance which simply cannot be captured in the mechanical sense. As a result, policy intervention, which focuses on the product rather than the process, becomes problematic. This article suggests a series of practical recommendations made by our interviewees for ways in which the art forms may be supported into the future.

Philip Schlesinger and Charlotte Waelde, ‘Copyright and cultural work: an exploration’, Innovation – The European Journal of Social Science Research 2012 25(1): 11-28.

This article first discusses the contemporary debate on cultural “creativity” and the economy. Second, it considers the current state of UK copyright law and how it relates to cultural work. Third, based on empirical research on British dancers and musicians, an analysis of precarious cultural work is presented. A major focus is how those who follow their art by way of “portfolio” work handle their rights in ways that diverge significantly from the current simplistic assumptions of law and cultural policy. Our conclusions underline the distance between present top-down conceptions of what drives production in the cultural field and the actual practice of dancers and musicians.