New policy limits copyright protection for dance steps, exercise routines

On June 18, 2012, the U.S. Copyright Office issued a Statement of Policy that limits copyright protection for exercise routines, sequences of yoga poses, compilations of dance steps and other compilations that the Office deems lacking in sufficient originality to merit copyright protection.

In the Statement, the Office clarified when it will (and will not) register a “compilation,” which is a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials.  To qualify for registration as a compilation, Section 103 of the Copyright Act requires that “the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.”

In the Statement of Policy, the Office notes that “collections of facts are not copyrightable per se. . . . Not every selection, coordination, or arrangement will pass muster.”  Although the Statement does not establish any bright line rules for what amount of selection, coordination, or arrangement will be sufficient, a review of the Statement’s examples provides some guidance:

  • an original compilation of the names of an author’s 50 favorite restaurants is copyrightable, even though the restaurant names are pre-existing, as the selection and/or arrangement is the original work of the author;
  • an arrangement of yoga poses or exercises in an exercise routine is not copyrightable, while a film or an original collection of drawings or photos showing those poses or exercises is copyrightable;
  • a compilation of simple dance routines or social dance steps is not copyrightable, while an “arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent and expressive whole” gives rise to choreographic authorship that is entitled to copyright protection.

The Statement of Policy published in the June 22, 2012 issue of the Federal Register.

6 responses to “New policy limits copyright protection for dance steps, exercise routines

  1. This is very interesting! Yoga teaching is becoming very popular among both younger people starting their careers and older people who may have already had a career. Every yoga teacher has their own unique style and teaching method, but the poses are basically the same throughout all practices.
    What if a yoga teacher uses certain teaching techniques that distinctly sets them apart from others? For example, Bikram Yoga is a relatively unique style of yoga that was spearheaded by an individual. This Forbes article discusses some of Bikram Choudhury’s attempts to legally protect his method: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0921/entrepreneurs-franchising-bikram-yoga-new-twists_print.html

  2. Great question. In the case of Bikram, according to the article it appears that the issue relates to whether or not a studio can use the trademarked name “Bikram Yoga,” although the article mentions that he also owns copyrights for several instructor scripts. According to this case, it seems that the instructor scripts would be subject to copyright, but the poses described in the scripts would not.

  3. Would this mean then that instructors could purchase a (copyrighted) Geri-Fit strength training exercise DVD and then use (copy) the program’s format but call their exercise program something else? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of buying a License which permits not only the ability to teach the copyrighted Geri-Fit exercise class but also allows the individual or facility to use the federally registered trademark in their marketing of the exercise class? Would hate to see 25+ years of hard work and effort in perfecting an exercise program specifically designed for seniors and then a copycat program comes about overnight. What’s your opinion concerning this type of “copyright protection?”

    • Thanks for your comment. Your question involves legal guidance that is specific to your business. For that, you will want to contact your attorney, or an attorney who is licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. If I or my firm can assist you, please contact me directly using the contact information on my Author page.

  4. So if there are two gyms that use bungees as a means of working out, use similar exercises and one of those gyms says they have a copyright on the exercises, does the other gym have to stop all exercises?

    • The article above notes that it is difficult for anyone to claim copyright in an exercise routine. I suggest that you consult an attorney for your specific question, but in general the copyright office policy indicates that an exercise routine in itself is not copyrightable.

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