Legalities in Dance

Associate director Geetha Ballal throws some light on legalities involved in a dance production. Read on…

Legalities – the word is enough to put everything in perspective and see what we have been doing…

Working for a dance company for the last 14 years, I can only say that this word holds more and more value with each passing year. What we have envisioned, built and carefully nurtured over the years is the only asset any dance company can claim their right over. When this right is tampered with, that’s when we turn to ‘legalities’.

If you are serious about the work that you create and want to protect it fiercely and don’t want anyone to think ‘small’ of the company or take you for granted, right there is a need to be legally prepared – for all fights to keep your IP in place. It’s the best weapon a company can wield against all breach of trust / agreements, plagiarism, infringement of copyrights and such other forms of discretions.

Lets go over a basic list of what a dance company can do to protect its rights, its intellectual properties arising out of sheer hard work and creativity.

– Registration: A legally registered entity is always a more accepted for any purpose – taxes, deductions, payments (external and internal), weightage to honor agreements, etc.
– Copyrights: This is an easy way to keep plagiarism at bay. Whenever you create an original work – choreography, techniques, music, etc – its better to have patent over the work before you want to show it off to the world on social media.
– Permissions and licenses: All written mails and documents constituting an accord to let you use others IP – music, universal dance techniques, inspirations – is another important aspect to secure for a rainy day.
(for more information on the above topics, please read my previous blog Show management part 2 –

– Agreements: An important document that is essential for any two persons/organizations or establishments to work smoothly.

There are two kinds of agreements – one which I have already iterated in my previous blogs – Confirmation letter or in legal terms, Agreement between the dance company and the client/organizer of an event.
The second is internal – an agreement between the Company and any/all persons involved with the company.

This simple exchange of terms is the most powerful tool for a company to uphold its rights to the intellectual property and general works speaking of the techniques/methodology of working and system a company follows. Putting in paper the obligations to be followed by a person joining the company will go a long way in protecting the ‘rights’ of the company. Again, a few basic clauses that needs to be in place:

  • the tenure of the agreement along with the start date
  • a solemn declaration of utmost confidentiality while dealing with the company’s properties (physical or intellectual)
  • understanding the IP and its rights vesting with the company and a declaration not to violate the company policies
  • Breach terms and its repercussions

– Other records: Simple documents or archives of daily activities – mails, photos, videos, blogs, any communications, etc., can also prove to be very useful during a time when you have to justify your stand.


Well, I do hope that you are geared and ready if you are to start a company or if you are pursuing dance as an individual. This can be your initial list and I am sure there will be additions as and when you assess your works and its importance.


  • Sunil Gupta

    2nd August 2014 at 3:46 pm Reply


    Your post looks at a very important aspect of the art scene – especially in India, where the “chalta hai”, “jagaadu” and “who cares” attitude causes people to steal valuable IP, as if it is a birthright.

    We are a kathak academy on Cambridge Road, Bangalore, and have been struggling with keeping straight as well as preventing our works from free dissemination.

    1> there is no regular channel to buy works – we struggle to contact book publishers, authors and book stores to buy copies of books. We had even to buy Indian books from the USA at very high prices, when we managed to locate a book (to prevent copying).

    2> when we want to buy music rights from artists, they are (largely) unclear what the transaction means. Can we use only for self learning, can we use this for public performances, can we use for teaching? No one we have paid money for music even gives us an acknowledgement – transactions are either cash, or the receipt says nothing. How does a buyer protect himself from a claim of copyright violation?

    3> our students use music to perform on stage (school etc) or post youtube videos, with the music expressly given for practice. Do you suggest we go legal, or send take-down notices? Are these practical?

    4> sometimes the copyright holder asks for an absurd amount, or delivers a very poor quality MP3.

    We have attempted to get into contracts, copyright terms & conditions, and must admit that this has minimised misuse greatly – but if a misuse does happen, there is little one can do. For example a student performs in her school. Do we remove that student, or sue for damages. If “damages” then what is the damage – it was not a ticketed show…

    So implementation of your suggestions are practically difficult – the only thing that one can really do, and we try to be perfect here, is not to violate copyright ourselves. We have spent lakhs recording our own music, and are heartbroken when we see it on youtube or get to know of a performance done with it.

    Going legal in India on copyright is tough – have you ever tried it?

    • Masoom Parmar

      3rd August 2014 at 6:54 pm Reply

      Dear Mr. Sunil Gupta,

      Thank you for taking time to put your queries. I have tried my best to answer the questions posed by you. Trust this helps.

      Please find below answers corresponding to your doubts:

      1> I agree it is a tad bit difficult to ‘figure’ a good source that will give you complete details of IP in India. However, there are forums, lawyer groups who are awakening to the need of preserving ‘arts’ and they do offer opinions and consultations based on artistes fears and questions. I personally find chatting with my company CA opens a lot of doors as to ‘what to ask’, ‘where to find answers’ and sometimes if lucky even the right organisation.

      2> Well if you are paying cash, then the smartest thing to do is get a declaration signed from the musician that he/she allows you to use the music the way you want it (unless it is going to be sublet to organisations or media, in which case they might ask for more money or a percentage of your sell point). You are paying them and have a right to get at least a signature on a declaration that entitles you to your right – if they do not agree then it is clear that they are not fully convinced to part with their composition.

      There is a PPL office located in Bangalore (like most cities) and a large number of artistes come under their purview when it comes to licensing artistes to use their music. If direct contact with the artiste (when using recorded tracks) doesn’t elicit a clear reply, I suggest going to the PPL office – they are a bit pricey but will give you proper legal freedom to use the music for your cause. (You may also want to check IPRS website as well).

      3> Notices are good, especially with those who are under contract / agreeement with you. Going all the way legal may not always be necessary, just strict notices or even an attested letter on your letterhead asking them to stop should work. Only in the extreme circumstances, go legal. But like I mentioned in my blog, it is ALWAYS better to have IP rights put down in paper and both involved parties sign on agreement – your most trusted honest student might ‘innocently’ misuse what has been given to him/her. An agreement will put even the slightest thought as you mentioned above to rest for he/she will fear that you might go legal on them.

      4> If someone’s charging an absurd amount, then it’s not worth it. Best to go the PPL office to strike a negotiable rate if you really need the work. Poor quality again comes down to what you put down on the declaration form so that can be used as a promissory note of delivering quality.

      5> Depends on the extent of misuse. For one yes, you should remove the student – it may mean a short term revenue loss but at least you are sending the right message to the others who may contemplate on going the same way. It will also mean that you are very particular about the work that you are creating and there will be many who will respect that more than being ‘removed’ never to have access to the knowledge you possess. Damage claim again is very subjective – depends on what you have put down in your agreement, if not, assessing what is the direct result of such ‘misuse’ has cost you should help you arrive at a suitable ‘damage claim’.

      6> So what if the performance is already done? It is still your work and if you have copyrights over the work then you have all the means and rights to sue or at least issue a notice (this can go public as well if the misuse is massive) to the mis-doer.

      7> Few years back we faced similar issues with ex-students / dancers ‘lifting’ our work and claiming to be their own. But let me say this, justice may be slow in India but not latent. I am proud to say that my company took a bold step against one of our dancers and sued for breach of agreement terms. After 5 years of haggling in court it was ruled in our favor. There’s always hope for those who believe in their rightful rights.

      Copyrights in itself is a strong document that protects your work. If it is original work, go ahead and get it copyrighted and why not, even use the symbol of copyright on your videos/photos/music – this will at least ensure that the miscreants will think twice before using it as their own.

      I really hope this has helped you. Most of the information is also available online. Even if we don’t have all necessary offices in Bangalore, few legal offices elsewhere in the country will still hold good for what an artiste requires.

      Geetha Ballal

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