Before you put a ring on it, you better think twice about copying Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" dance routine. JaQuel Knight — the mastermind who choreographed the singer's 2008 music video — wants to own his work... for good.
David L. Hecht, founding and managing partner at Hecht Partners LLP, has obtained a copyright registration for Knight, according to a press release. Hecht said the registration was "momentous" as "JaQuel's choreography as performed in 'Single Ladies' is truly iconic."
"Registration of choreography has been allowed by the Copyright Office since 1978," Hecht added. "However, many choreographers and dancers are not aware that protection of this form of intellectual property exists. I am honored to work with JaQuel and his manager, Mary Pelloni, to ensure that his intellectual property is fully protected."
After working with the “Halo” songstress, 39, Knight’s life changed drastically, but he was still earning "a weekly rate" as one of the industry’s top choreographers.
"How is this happening and choreographers are not getting anything?" Knight, 31, recalled to Billboard magazine in an interview published on Thursday, November 5. "How can I take my craft more seriously and protect myself?"
Choreographers are typically paid on a daily or weekly rate or on a project basis, and once their work ends, they are no longer paid. Over time, music videos have gotten more and more popular and featured iconic moves. No one will forget Britney Spears’ dance break in her 2001 video, "I’m A Slave 4 U," or when Maddie Ziegler dramatically danced in Sia’s "Chandelier" video.
"The artist is used to the idea that after you create something for them, it’s theirs — that they should be able to perform it around the world for millions of people forever," Knight explained. "We’re left to the life of Instagram posts and Twitter to prove we did the work, which is sad. And credit on social media does not come with ownership. We’re getting used and abused."
Knight decided he needed copyright protection to get better pay and credit, but many lawyers told Pelloni, it would not be an easy thing to accomplish.
But after Knight started working with Hecht, things started moving forward. First, Hecht, Knight and Pelloni registered the choreography in the “Single Ladies” music video, and the Copyright Office approved the registration on July 9.
Knight is also in the process of registering six other routines, including his choreography for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit bop “WAP.” Over time, Knight would like to register his whole catalog.
Knight and Frank Gaston Jr. collaborated on the choreography and discussed their vision for the video. "You see the three ladies, you see the inspiration — but the funk, the stylized movement, they’re extremely different," he said. "I mean, how I got here as an artist is being inspired by those who came before me. That’s how any of us get anywhere. But as you grow, you learn who you are. At this point, people can see something right away and know 'JaQuel choreographed that.'"
At the end of the day, Knight wants to register the copyright for "Single Ladies" and other routines to protect "that voice."
Knight wants to mentor other dancers who may eventually want to own their work one day, too. "I don’t want to hit steps every day for the rest of my life," he said. "So how can I share this knowledge with everyone else, and start to build something even my kids can live off of? I think now is the time that we recognize choreographers as the gatekeepers of culture."