The U.S. Copyright Office has made it clear through a Statement of Policy released on June 18, 2012
that "functional physical movements such as sports movements,
exercises, and other ordinary motor activities alone" are not
works of authorship protected under U.S. copyright law. The
Statement was issued to clarify the practice of the Office relating
to examination of claims of compilations involving uncopyrightable
subject matter, and also to clarify the Office's policy with
respect to registration of choreographic works. The Office
acknowledged that there was a need to establish a formal policy
given questionable court rulings and erroneous issuance of
copyright registrations for claims based on physical
movement. Based on the Office's review and analysis of the
U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv.
Co. and its reading of the statute and relevant
legislative history, it concluded that in order for a compilation
to be protected by copyright its content must fall within one
or more of the categories of authorship listed by Congress in Section 102 of the Copyright Act.
A "compilation" is a work created by the collection
and arrangement of pre-existing works or materials. For a
"compilation" to be protected by copyright, the work as a
whole must constitute "an original work of
authorship" (17 USC 103). The Feist decision made
clear that uncopyrightable facts collected in one place without any
element of originality to the collection could not be protected as
a copyrighted compilation. Now, the Copyright Office has clarified
that a compilation of any other materials that do not fall within
one of the specified eight categories of copyrightable works
established by Congress in Section 102 of the Act is also not
protected under the copyright law. These eight categories include:
literary works; musical works, including words; dramatic works,
including music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial
graphic and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual
works; sound recordings; and architectural works. Section 102(b)
states that copyright protection does not 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."
Thus, reading all these resources together, the Office has
concluded that a compilation of exercise or yoga poses cannot be
protected by copyright since it is not one of the eight categories
and the underlying material content constitutes a "functional
system or process."
The Office also distinguished between copyrightable
"choreography" and yoga or exercise positions or other
physical movements. Legislative history indicates that
"choreography" does not include "social dance steps
and simple routines." The Statement states that
"although a choreographic work, such as a ballet or
abstract modern dance" incorporate "simple routines,
social dances, or even exercise routines as elements of the overall
work, the mere selection and arrangement of physical movements does
not in itself support a claim of choreographic authorship."
Rather, it is explained that such a work must contain "at
least a minimum amount of original choreographic authorship,"
which for copyright purposes must be a "composition and
arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns
organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive
The bottom line is that no one in the U.S. can claim rights
exclusive to the rest of the world in yoga routines, exercise
positions, sports movements, simple dance steps, or other simple,
functional, physical activity. So, feel free to express yourself in
any manner you see fit next time you are on the dance floor, in a
yoga studio, in an exercise class or just skipping down the middle
of the street at midnight ... knowing there's nothing in the
copyright law (at least) to stop you.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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