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In a rather long and wordy “Statement of Policy” in the Federal Register a few weeks ago, the Copyright Office recently noted publicly that series of exercises or yoga routines is not a protectable expression under copyright law.  I disagree – read on – and think that while most such routines should not be protected I think it is possible that some are and I would not shut the door on them entirely.

It is not entirely clear to me – despite the publication’s efforts – how a compilation or routine for excercise or yoga is different from a protectable series of ballet or dance moves. The dance moves themselves are presumably public domain. In noting that a dance routine can be protected, the Copyright Office says that “Choreographic authorship is considered, for copyright purposes, to be the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive whole.” 

The directive creates more questions than answers for me. If a series of dance moves could be protected, why can’t a series of exercise maneuvers? Where is the line drawn. Is a series of aerobics maneuvers dance or exercise? What about Zubma®?  The video recording of a yoga routine protectable as a video, but the protection would not extend to the movements. Isn’t some music at its core a series of notes? The individual notes themselves are not protectable, I presume, but at some point a compilation of them becomes a protectable expression. I think the same is possible – though not common – for exercise or yoga routines.  

Further complicating the issue is the Copyright Office’s admission that it has issued several registrations that it now says are invalid and unenforceable. 

In sum, I disagree with the Copyright Office’s ruling – I would at least leave the door open to the possibility that an exercise or yoga routine was so creative, original, and expressive that it could be registered and protected.

[I also wish the Copyright Office could communicate in a manner that was more clear and to the point. Some of the responses to application  I have received recently from the Copyright Office are very difficult to understand and read like they were written by robots.]

One group who agrees with the rule is YogaTruth.org – a site devoted to “open source” yoga.

image from shutterstock.com

2 Responses
  1. Sandy Wong-Sanchez says:

    Does this mean our trademark, Yoga Challenge, issued in 1997, is no longer valid? Will we get a notice or something? It was issued to identify our 4 hatha yoga systems on videos that are copyrighted.

  2. Vic says:

    I think it is ludicrous to imagine that someone should be able to copyright a gym workout routine based on already existing exercise movements.

    Therefor I totally agree with 17 USC § 102 Subject matter of copyright section (b) that clearly states:

    “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

    Imagine me as a personal trainer not being able to use, write down or show someone a routine that I have found useful. It’s totally absurd.