ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Stop Me Before I Do The Electric Slide —

I can’t help but feel, thinking back to the last 400 weblog entries I’ve done, that I made some promises regarding this weblog. One of them was that I would refrain from being a mere link weblog, using some other event to be a sort of pithy Empathy Tourst before moving on with nary a consideration. I don’t know if loading on a bunch of paragraphs along with the links entitles me to some sort of “out”, but let’s try it anyway. I promise to add content. In fact, I’m threatening to add content.

This “thing” happened recently. Basically, a guy named Ric Silver, who created a dance move called the “Electric Slide” in 1976, copyrighted the “dance”. He then has gone after anyone showing videos of the “dance”, whether they be home videos, music videos, people talking about how to do the dance, you name it. He’s done this under the DMCA, which is its own level of Satan’s Tool.

So this was going on, and the EFF, our guardians of freedom and justice, sued the guy back on the behalf of one of the takedown “victims”. As a result of this snap-back, Silver and the EFF negotiated a “settlement”, in which Silver agreed to license his “copyrighted” dance Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0. This has been hailed as a victory and wonder for all involved, a dashing collision of web 2.0 thinking and backwards dance-hall misguidedness.

I just don’t agree, on two levels.

The first is that this somehow legitimizes the entire idiocy that you can “copyright” a dance. I understand that you can copyright your tapes showing how to do the dance. I understand you can copyright your movie in which your dance appears. I understand that someone could ask you to be the choreographer for your movie, and that you sign a contract, and if they go use your choreography and don’t pay you, you can sue their Stealy-McStealerson asses. I also understand that you can “trademark” a name that represents a product. That is, if you have a dance tape business and you sell a product called “The Electric Slide”, you can then go ahead and sue someone who comes out with a dance tape called “The Electric Slide”. That is, if you have a trademark. If you have a copyright for the “Electric Slide” video, and someone comes out with an “Electric Slide”, you can maybe, possibly, assuming you have a good lawyer, convince a judge somewhere that the “Electric Slide” video being sold is being made to be confused with your Electric Slide Product. But again, you’re going to rely on your trademark. This is, as I understand it, how the whole thing works. You can’t copyright a fucking dance move.

Second of all, the EFF license makes no sense because after submitting a legal brief in which they claim the copyright is entirely, completely unapplicable to people just fucking dancing in a video, they then tacitly agree that they do agree by agreeing to settle with it being licensed under Creative Commons. But that makes no sense; how the fuck do you Creative Commons license a dance move? Again, I understand you can CC license a video of you doing the dance move, CC license your description of how to do the dance move, and CC license photographs of yourself doing the dance move. But the dance move itself? If I weave a basket, and every few loops I cut a nick into the wicker in a distinctive pattern, can I copyright or CC Licence my hot-rockin’ Wicker-Nick move? Can I “allow” people the right to remix, share, and attribute to me the Wickernick maneuver? Is that even sane?

One of the initial complaints with regards to the Creative Commons was the creation of a “Creative Commons Public Domain” license; which said, basically, it was in the public domain. You can understand the argument of the Creative Commons, which basically was “Well, this way it’s very clear and legally sound when a person makes the declaration.” But on the other hand, maybe you can also see the issue where other people went “Why the fuck are you branding your own form of “Public Domain” and using that exact term for your contract?” They could called it the “Absolutely Free” license or something else, and it would have effectively been Public Domain, but they had to go ahead and use a generic term and brand it, even ever so slightly, for themselves. And that blows.

And again, this is not a release of this idiotically un-copyrightable thing into the “public domain”. As a CC-SA-NC 3.0 licensed item, you can now “remix” it. (So I guess you can do it “wrong” or add some moves to it or totally mess with it) You can now “share” it. (So besides being able to freely share it to people, you can also share… the moves?) And it’s “Non-commercial” meaning you can’t sell it, so you better not have any adword ads, banners, or anything else on your webpage with it! Actually, to be honest, this last part has, to my knowledge, never really been worked out. If you click on a banner and it’s near a CC-NC work being shared… are the people hosting the CC-NC work violating the license?

Naturally, people are praising all this shit because it has the words “Creative Commons” and “Settlement” in it. But it is, as far as I can tell, Grade A Bullshit.

As an example, Wired Blogs gets it wrong, claiming that the dance is now “in the public domain”. No, it really isn’t, if you believe the claim; it’s merely licensed for non-commercial use along the substantial license language in Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License. I fear a lot of people are going to make this mistake. And, of course, fail to “attribute” Ric Silver in all their videos of the Electric Slide as per the license. Fail to do that… and he can sue you!

So, here’s where you come in, faithful readers (there’s a couple thousand of you, by the way). Talk me into or out of the following thing:

  • I put up a video of myself doing a very “Electric-Slide-Like” dance, wearing a very silly hat.
  • I do not call it “The Electric Slide” because I heard some asshole has the copyright on the name.
  • I will copyright it.
  • I will charge you $1 for it.

I’m mulling over my plan, looking for the positives and the negatives. I see the massive advantages in the rainfall of electronic dollar bills coming to me from around the world as the Jason Scott Slide makes its ways into entertainment centers and movie-olas. I see the upturned hands of a million new fans, all taking an interest in computer history because if that area of study can produce such amazing dancers, surely it’s worth a closer look. I see, in a nutshell, global domination.

I will donate the money to a charity other than the EFF because as far as I can tell, they’re being tards about this today. I donate money to them regularly; I consider it a retainer.

Tell me your thoughts. In two days I make a decision.


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  1. Hahah, do it! I’ll pony up. (And on the silly hat or otherwise in the background should be the 09 f9 11 02[…] key. Unless you, like the Ghostbusters, don’t want to cross streams here.)

  2. David says:

    I’m hereby pledging to cross-license my own copyrighted Double Dance in a historic act of two dance-copyright heavyweights Enabling Interoperability for Users ™.

    Also, if I were in the US I would promise to steal your moves, have you sue me, take it all the way to the Supreme Court and bring down the whole damn deck of cards once and for all.

    Sadly, being from the colonies all I can offer is that my government will do it’s best to adopt your crazy-ass copyright laws where it profits multi-national companies, without granting any of those pesky fair-use laws (or any other benefits of the American copyright “System” ) which might profit actual people, and not just vampires/middle-managers and lawyers.

  3. Timothy says:

    Jason, I think you’re letting the stupidity of the dance in question color your view of choreography as a creative work.

    If I were a pop star, should I be able to perform, say, an entire Britney Spears dance routine to my song? Her choreographer has no further right to his/her creative work?

    (Another interesting case: stage directions. They should be in the same set as choreography — just instructions on how to move the human body. Suppose I remake the entire Die Hard series, scene for scene. Would that be allowed if I write my own dialog?)

    Now, your idea of the Wicker-Nick sounds like a case for patent — it’s a method for creating something. I think there is an interesting argument then for patenting dance moves, as methods for creating… slick rhythm? a fly appearance? sex in movement?

  4. goblin says:

    Just playing devils advocate here, i’m curious as to your reasoning as to why a dance move shouldn’t be copyrightable.

    With the obvious disclaimer that the law isn’t a logical system, and therefore there is a disconnect between what is actually legal/illegal, and what people think ought to be legal/illegal… Assuming that a copyright exists to grant legal protection to the Author of a Work, what the argument here comes down to is “What is a Work?” …(and to a lesser extent what one needs to do to be an Author of such a work)

    You seem to accept that it is reasonable for a film to have copyright, and presumably for a book, a song or piece of music to have copyright.

    What is it about these things that makes them a Work that can be protected?

    It might be argued that they all have “creative worth”, but a bad film has just as much protection as a good one, so the concept of “work” can not be based on concepts of “artistic merit”

    I would argue that essentially they are just ordered information, a suitably cold and abstract classification, and one more suitable for courts to decide on.

    By this definition a dance certainly classifies as a Work, (of course so do genes so we may be able to copyright our kids! [provided of course we can demonstrate Authorship]) so of course would software and other less traditional creative Works.

    The argument then shifts to what one needs to do in order to Author a Work, and how different a Work needs to be from another Work to count as a new Work…

    I suspect your argument as to why a Dance can’t be copyrighted is based on what the Law IS as opposed to what people MIGHT LIKE it to be, but I would still be interested in what you think it OUGHT to be.

    (on a side note under english law, it is not possible to copyright the plot of a story, nor is it possible to copyright a joke, unless it is particularly long and complex… so perhaps comedy is not the new rock and roll after all!)

  5. This certainly complicates my plans for next weekend. I’m DJ’ing a wedding reception, at which the guests have specifically requested the Eletric Slide. Now I’m going to have to go around and have them all sign legal waivers before any sliding begins.

  6. La Roi Williams says:

    Although I do not completely agree that that the Electric Slide should have a copyright because it is a popular dance, I have a question about a dance called the Cha Cha Slide. This dance comes from a song (The Cha Cha Slide) where the originator clearly thought out the choreagrapy for the song and wrote a song that accompanies the dance. The song instructs the dancers what to do. I believe this should be eligible for copyright protection just as a dance routine in a play or any other drama. What are your thoughts. Please send responses to