Title 17 of the U.S. Code extends copyright protection 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. Copyright does not extend to ideas or concepts that have not been fixed in a tangible form. To benefit from copyright protection, the creator of an original routine must therefore either write it down or record it in a video or multimedia format.
Copyright laws do not protect an exercise routine itself but will protect the form of expression chosen by the creator. If the creator of an exercise routine produces a written description or a multimedia recording, he may register the description or recording with the U.S. Copyright Office. The law then protects that description or recording from unauthorized copying by other individuals and organizations. 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 additional enforcement rights.
The U.S. Copyright Office defines choreography as the arrangement and composition of dance movements or patterns, usually intended to be accompanied by music. The creator of an exercise routine with music may therefore apply to obtain copyright protection within this category. To register a choreographic work, the creator may send the Copyright Office either a film or video recording of the routine or a precise description of it in written form or in a dance notation system. Once registered, the creator can sue anyone who reproduces or distributes his recording or written description of the routine.
According to the Copyright Office, a multimedia work combines authorship in two or more media. A multimedia exercise routine could therefore include text, choreography or music. The nature of a multimedia work means that it can incorporate more than one copyrightable element. For the purposes of copyright registration, the creator should identify each element before applying for registration. If in doubt, the Copyright Office can provide guidance.
All copyrighted works may be reproduced by others without charge for the purposes of scholarship, teaching, research or news reporting. This is known as the “fair use” exception under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Fair use must be non-commercial and must not affect the market value of the original work in a material manner. A school or college may therefore be able to use elements of a copyrighted exercise routine for educational purposes.