Can You Copyright The Idea Of Dancing On Treadmills?

from the one-hopes-not dept

By now, one hopes that you’ve seen the incredibly creative video that the band Ok Go did for the song “Here It Goes Again.” The video, filmed in a single take, has the four band members dancing across a series of treadmills. Yet, as William Patry points out, there may be a bit of a dispute coming over the concept. Apparently, a television commercial for some vitamin supplement in the UK is making use of folks dancing on treadmills to a different song after taking the supplement. It’s clear that the idea is from the band’s video, as the moves are even the same. An article in The Scotsman suggests that legal action is brewing, noting that “There was extensive negotiation to use Ok Go (by the JWT advertising agency on behalf of Berocca’s manufacturer Bayer] but this didn’t bear fruit.”

Of course, there’s nothing definitive about the band taking action — and it seems unlikely that the band would actually do anything about this. The band’s members have been very vocal about technology and intellectual property issues (in a good way), including writing NY Times op-ed pieces and testifying before Congress. The band has also been very open and encouraging of getting fans to copy their videos (the band has some other popular videos as well). While the band might have a claim on the identical choreography aspect (you can’t copyright an idea, but you can on the expression of that idea), it seems like no good would come from such a complaint. It would certainly only help the vitamin supplement company. Instead, hopefully, the band recognizes that this is, indeed, the sincerest form of flattery, and the attention the vitamin ad generates will likely only increase the number of folks who seek out the Ok Go video (and become fans of Ok Go’s music).

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Comments on “Can You Copyright The Idea Of Dancing On Treadmills?”

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TheTraveler says:

The Lord of the Dance

I think it really depends on how things fall out… if the style is more recognized by people because of the commercial then what you get is when someone see’s the band doing it they will this its being stolen from the commercial, how ever if people understand that it was the BAND that first did this, then the band will get the recognition. It comes down to who is the person who is known for this “style.” Greed is like a def tone ant eater trying to sing amazing grace, no one likes to say it but everyone has it in there back yard!

chris (profile) says:

commercials always copy popular stuff

when the matrix came out there were a bunch of commercials with “bullet time” style effects or the rows of things flying by people, when the music video for “cry” came out in the 80’s or whatever (the video with peoples faces changing one feature at a time) the technique found its way into a a bunch of commercials.

digital “morphing” used to be a groundbreaking computer animation technique, but now its commonplace and fairly cheesy since it’s been so over used in commercials.

it happens all the time so there is no reason to think this instance is unique or that the practice will stop anytime soon.

Matt Bennett says:

I believe they can copyright choreography, and if they were negotiations to use the moves for a fee and chose to just use them anyway and not pay, that’s a pretty clear damage you can sue over. That said, the actual moves only seem a little similar. So, it’s not a frivolous lawsuit and I think the band is justified in bringing it. They still, at the same time, might lose justifiably.

In other words, I think this is one of those rare cases in which what is happening is what should actually happen. There’s justifiable case in which the merits of both sides can be seen. And you let the court work it out as they could settle on their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

I got annoyed when I saw this advert. Just completely rips them off. I don’t even care if it’s legal or not to be honest, it just annoys the hell out of me that someone can rip off something like that.

And in all honesty, most people who see this advert before the music video will assume that the band ripped the advert off. Because people are stupid. And that does harm the band.

I don’t know why, but the fact that this was an advert makes it a lot worse (to me). If it showed up in a TV show somewhere I don’t think I’d be that bothered, but the fact that it’s an advert just seems a lot more insulting to the original folk.

Egat says:

The Failed Negotations Are Significant

The problem here is that the ad agency for the vitamin company started negotiations with OK GO to use their song/video in their ad. Those didn’t work out, so they went ahead and did the ad anyway with a different song. There’s been some precedent, Tom Waits v. Frito Lay comes to mind, though that’s always dealt with the actual song, not choreography.

I think the advertisers should be punished in this case. They asked to use the idea, were not able to satisfy the band, and did the commercial anyway. That’s wrong.

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

My uninformed speculation...

I would guess the reason the choreography is identical is that the advertising agency went ahead and filmed the commercial while they were still negotiating with OK GO, assuming that in the end they would be allowed to use the music. When they found out they weren’t they dubbed another track over it and hoped nobody would watch too closely.

The ad didn't use their choreography: no infringem says:

You can’t copyright the idea of dancing on treadmills. It isn’t copyrightable, patentable or trademarkable. Only the specific sequence of dance moves can be copyrighted and individual moves can’t be copyrighted anymore than notes can be.

The only traction the group has is if their was a breech of contract.

Jake says:

Waaaaaait a minute...

Say what you like about patent law, if OK Go actually run with this, they could potentially create a strong legal precedent forcing the British advertising industry to stop churning out derivative crap and come up with new and interesting material all the time.
If they pull that off they deserve knighthoods and a reserved plot each in Westminster Abbey. Good luck, lads! Give ’em hell!

Kiba says:

I am pretty sure the copying will force the band to innovates with even more fantastic choreography for trendmill.

Cut throat competition cum copying cum cutting are really the magic engine of economic growth.

Monopoly privileges like copyright just get in the way.

When you have an environment where you’re forced to innovates or die trying, you have a lot of motivation to try. Death motivates more than a nice castle to live in I guess.

Jordan says:

But no

The idea is obviously the same, but the actual choreography is not. In fact, the only moves that are directly “lifted” are sitting on the treadmill and the ice-skating-like walk across the treadmills.

And this isn’t the first commercial to ripoff the concept. There’s a local commercial here that’s at least a year old with even more similar choreography (but do you want to sue someone for a PSA fighting childhood obesity?). To see the commercial, which hasn’t made it to YouTube, go to and watch the clip labeled Treadmill.

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