the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs
the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs

Can I Copyright an Exercise Routine?

You may have these kinds of questions: Can I copyright an Exercise Routine? Can I copy an Exercise Routine created by someone else? Can I use an Exercise Routine created by someone else when I teach a class?

Let’s talk about each of these in turn.

The short answer is yes, you can copyright an exercise routine, however, an exercise routine isn’t just copyrighted because you created it physically. You have to record it in some way. This is because in order to benefit from copyright protection of the “form of expression” – in this case – an exercise routine – the creator of an original routine must write it down or record it in a video or multimedia format.

The relevant part of the U.S. Code is Title 17 which extends copyright to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. Exercise routines that fall within any of these categories may be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Once the exercise routine is recorded, the law protects the written description or multimedia recording from unauthorized copying by other individuals and organizations.

While we are talking about multimedia recordings, it is important to note that a multimedia work combines authorship in two or more media. A multimedia exercise routine could include text, choreography and/or music. For the purposes of copyright registration, the creator should identify each element before applying for registration. If in doubt, the Copyright Office or your intellectual property attorney can provide guidance. What this also means is that you will need to have appropriate licenses to use any music in the multimedia recorded format. If you are unable to license any of the music, you may need to make the recording without sound. Review this article about using exercise videos on your website for more guidance.

Let’s remember a basic principle of Copyright under US law: Copyright exists from the moment a work is created and registration with the Copyright Office is not compulsory; however, registration does provide the creator with access to additional statutory penalties.

For exercise routines we also need to remind you that: Copyright does not extend to ideas or concepts that have not been fixed in a tangible (recorded) form.

An exercise routine could be considered a Choreographic Work

If you also own copyright of the music used or have an appropriate license that covers use of the music in creating a new work, you may be able to register a choreographic work. This is because the Copyright Act (US) defines choreography as the arrangement and composition of dance movements or patterns, usually intended to be accompanied by music. As part of the registration process the creator may send the Copyright office a multimedia recording of the exercise routine. If you choose not to use music, like the first explanation you may send a written description of the routine whether in plain language or in a recognized form of dance notation.

Can you use a copyrighted exercise routine in a class you are teaching?

You may have heard of the “fair use” exception for copyright which allows for copyrighted works to be reproduced by others without charge for the purposes of scholarship, teaching, research or news reporting (Section 107 of the Copyright Act). What is likely significant in deciding whether you can use a copyrighted exercise routine is that for the “fair use” exception to apply any use must be non-commercial and must not impact the market value of the original work in a “material manner.” A school or university might, therefore, be able utilize segments of a copyrighted exercise routine for educational purposes, but an instructor who is paying paid to teach an exercise class at a gym is not able to make use of the “fair use” educational exception because of the commercial intent.

The only way you can use a copyrighted exercise routine in a commercial manner is if you have a license to do so. The license would be obtained from the copyright owner and would need to state when and where you can use the copyrighted exercise routine and that you can do so on a commercial basis. If you are making use of the exercise routines of any of the well-known brands – for example Les Mills, CrossFit, Zumba, Boxercise – then you will generally need to enter into a licensing agreement that provides for your use of the copyrighted routine under specific conditions. Generally speaking, brands will require instructors who become licensed to conform to their teaching methodology and often to undertake specific certifications as part of the licensing process.

In Summary

Can I copyright an Exercise Routine?

Yes. You don’t have to register the routine with the Copyright Office to rely on legal protections, however registration does provide additional access to statutory penalties in the case of infringement. Be aware that in order to include music in your multimedia recording as part of your application for copyright registration, you will need to either own the copyright for the music that accompanies the exercise routine in the recording or hold the appropriate license to make use of the music in such a recording.

Can I copy an Exercise Routine created by someone else?

No, unless you have a license to make use of the routine, or you are covered under one of the “fair use” exceptions.

Can I use an Exercise Routine created by someone else when I teach a class?

Yes, if you either have a license to make use of the exercise routine, or your teaching of the class is non-commercial and under the auspices of an educational institution and as a result you can rely on the “fair use” exception.

 

About the author

Anna Blanch Rabe is a communications consultant, writer, and speaker. A non-practicing attorney, she works with social impact businesses and non-profit organizations to develop and effectively execute narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, and reach new customers. A former college level athlete, she now enjoys yoga and swimming, and crewing for her trail and ultrarunning husband.

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