Why Imitation Is Not The highest Form Of Flattery – Copyright Of Routines

The world of burlesque is a caring, sharing place! We care about other performers, we like to take new performers under our wings, we like to share ideas, stages, limited backstage space, hairspray and boob tape… But there’s one thing that it’s definitely not okay to share and that is routines – especially without permission…

So you’ve just entered the world of burlesque and you have a burly crush on a performer – you love everything about them! You love their style, their swagger, their costume and their routine! You are so excited about them, in fact they’ve become your hero and you want to be just like them. Yes, we’ve all been there! It’s so tempting as a new performer to just want to perform like that artist, but a big no is copying their routine, name or costume (UNLESS you are a tribute artist – performing as a tribute to the original with their FULL PERMISSION! – which is a different story) – and we’ll tell you why…

Why a routine is unique to a performer… 

When a performer choreographs their routine, they put a lot of their personality into their work. They work on a routine for months – maybe even longer, choosing the steps, re-jigging steps, choosing which part of costume to take off where for the most effect. They research their theme, they add special accents and may even add their own, fully researched, gags/punchlines/historical tidbits. In short, a performer does a lot of work behind the scenes in crafting their routine – a routine that might only be seen on stage for 4 mins! You can read more about constructing your own routine here: things to think about when constructing a routine and Creating a storyline and act mapping

Why it’s not good to share… 

As you’ve just seen above, there’s a hell of a lot of the performer that goes into their individual routine – it’s part of the performer, this is their work – like a Renoir or Van Goch – their brush strokes on the canvas that is the stage. And just like those old masters, copying the act and passing it off as your own work is a massive no-no! You wouldn’t attempt to forge a well-known painting and pass it off as your own work and what an artist does on stage is exactly the same. Besides, copying a routine could land you in a whole load of legal hot water.


There are laws around the world which protect creators of original work – whether that is a business, a sound recording, a work of art or a performance piece. Basically, while slightly different from country to country, copyright law exists to prevent a person/organisation passing off the ‘intellectual property’ of the creator as their own. We could go deeper into it, but it’s very long and convoluted so head here for intellectual property and your work gen. Performers have extended rights on this (not to be confused with ‘performing rights’ which deals with royalties) – they:

  • can ask for consent if someone is filming their act
  • have the right to refuse consent to broadcast footage (whether ‘making available to the public’ via internet sharing, via media or any other means
  • refuse the right to reproduce a recording of their performance (ie a DVD being sold of a show which they took part in for money or for free)
  • Ask for a waiver to share ‘their likeness’ (ie photographs)

And in addition to above, they can protect their creations or ‘series of moves’ by copyrighting them. In order to copyright an act, the original choreographer (creator) can either film, or due to a change in the law, can now protect their choreography via written word, pictorial or narrative description, film or even computer animation. As the law in the UK still stands, this copyrighted work will be protected until 70 years after the death of the creator. In simple terms, another performer cannot reproduce the act in the lifetime of the creator without sole permission of the creator…

What about morals? Getting off on the right foot!

In addition to the fact that it is actually against the law to copy someone’s act, you will not be doing yourself any favours in the close-knit scene if you have copied someone’s act. Morally, this is the equivalent to going into someone’s house, putting on all their clothes, effecting their mannerisms and passing yourself as that person.

Why act copying is not professional – it’s all about integrity!

Professionally, if you want to further your career, it is best to focus on getting your own, original ideas and style. Producers will not touch an act that has been copied from a already established performer. Original is best!

What if I’ve joined a troupe and they’ve taught me a routine… Can I perform that? 

Many new performers start by having classes or join a troupe where a routine is taught. The routine remains the copyright of the person who created it – ie the teacher/troupe leader. They will most likely ask anyone learning the troupe not to perform it without their permission. If permission is granted to perform, it must be stated at the performance ‘choreography by XX’. Just another thought to add to this – if you are on your way to becoming a performer, you should strive for uniqueness and originality… Just think of how many might have been taught the same routine and if everyone who had been taught that routine performed it as a solo piece, there would be a lot of cloned routines!

What if my routine is very similar to another performers? 

There’s a lot of grey area in this one. Most performers will use search engines such as google and youtube to ensure their act is as original as it can be. They will also use similar search terms and variants of their idea, just to insure they’ve not violated anyone’s intellectual and artistic integrity. Yes, there are only so many themes in the world (yes, we’ve all seen loads of cookery/snake charmer/nun/car mechanic, etc acts!), so cross-overs cannot be avoided, but making sure you do your own take, which is totally different from another performer’s take on the idea is very important. If you do find your act crosses over a bit too much, the best advice is to contact the other performer with a friendly email and take it from there.

In short…

If you want to be taken seriously as a performer, the only way forward is creating your own act, being original and finding your own style!

One thought on “Why Imitation Is Not The highest Form Of Flattery – Copyright Of Routines

  1. Pingback: Performer Tips: Finding Your Signature Style | Bluestocking Lounge

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