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Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham

Martha Graham's dance troupe wants the rights to her dances. One of Martha Graham's heirs, Ronald Protas does, too. He's not a relative, but a friend who upon her death in 1991, inherited her estate, including rights and interests in her work.

And you know that dispute led to litigation. Add to that this little drama: after her death, Protas became artistic director of the Martha Graham Center. He later got into a dispute with the Center's board of trustees, and then during a period of financial difficulty when the Center had suspended operations, Protas founded the competing Martha Graham School and Dance Foundation.

To add insult to injury, he claimed the Foundation had exclusive rights to teach and perform Martha's work. Not to be outdone, the original Center claimed that all of Martha's choreography during her 96 years was "work for hire," entitling the Center to ownership.

The artistic world held its breath. Some went down the litigation path and filed an amicus brief, signed by the heads of other major dance groups. They urged the court to exercise caution in applying the "work for hire" doctrine where not-for-profit corporations were created to foster and support creative artists.

The Second Circuit heard the case, and decided in favor of the original Center, ruling that because the Center paid Martha, her work there was "for hire" and belonged to the Center, and not to Martha. So, Protas did not inherit the works Martha Graham created, except for perhaps eight dances created between 1956 and 1966, when her primary role at the Center was not choreography. A lower court has to decide who owns seven of those. So far, Protas has one dance, and ten are in the public domain. The original Center got 45 ballets.

In case you're wondering, you can read the entire 113-page opinion here.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, August 22, 2004 at 12:40 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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