osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
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From my Public Knowledge Blog

In which I discuss Jewish wedding dances and the copyright on the "Electric Slide." Links did not transfer over.

Is the Electric Slide Really Copyrighted? I'll Ask the Band After the Toast . . .
Submitted by Harold Feld on February 6, 2007 - 12:39pm.

According to this CNET story, Richard Silver, the creator of the “Electric Slide,” is now seeking to enforce his copyright in the choreography of “the Electric Slide.” Most folks know the Electric Slide and its unofficial companion piece, the Funky Chicken, as “group dances that you do when slightly tipsy at weddings.” (On a personal note, I should explain that traditional Jewish weddings avoid this by not having mixed dancing. We proudly substitute our own embarassing ritual known as “run in a circle really fast no matter what song the band is actually playing.” Then, at some point, we have the “prove how out of shape you are by lifting the bride and groom up on chairs.” NB: According to Mesechet Bubba Meisah, it is seven years bad luck if you break a bride or groom.)

Under the terms of the Copyright Act, choreography is subject to copyright. But a serious misstep may trip up Mr. Silver in his efforts to enforce his exclusive right to say who gets to embarass themelves and his beloved dance. According to the article, Silver created the dance in 1976, but did not actually register the copyright until 2004.

Why is this relevant? Because until the 1976 Copyright Act took effect on January 1, 1978, registration with the Copyright Office was a prerequisite for copyright protection. True, under Section 408, as modified by the 1976 Copyright Act, any work already under copyright and any new work after Dec. 31, 1977 does not need registration. But it would appear that “publication” of the Electric Slide for copyright purposes may well have taken place before the cut off date. In that case, under the terms of the Copyright Act as it existed in 1976, the Silver’s dance would slide into the public domain.

Again according to the article, Mr. Silver is working with lawyers, so I presume they have some argument why the Electric Slide is still eligible for copyright protection. For one thing, it is always possible that the CNET article misstates the date on which Mr. Silver created the dance, or that whatever “creation” took place in 1976 did not count as “publication” under the Copyright Act. So I hope no one is relying on this blog posting for legal advice in advance of their upcoming nuptials.

Still, it would not be the first time a rights holder represented by counsel backed off its aggressive posture on discovering that they did not have rights they thought they had. In 2004, for example, Jib-Jab.com produced a satiric cartoon of the Bush/Kerry race to the tune of “This Land Is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie. Ludlow Music, which held the copyright, threatened legal action. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing Jib-Jab, discovered that the song almost certainly had passed into the public domain, prompting Ludlow to settle.

Whether Mr. Silver’s claims pass the way Ludlow’s claims did, or whether he has a valid copyright in the Electric Slide, remains to be seen. In the meantime, might I suggest that my non-Jewish friends looking to avoid litigation risk try the “running around real fast in a circle” dance instead? Trust me, it will look just as silly on the videotape as the Electric Slide.
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