Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, ok go, treadmills

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).

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    TheTraveler, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:34am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:42am

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but while an idea may not be copyrighted, I'm pretty sure that choreography (i.e. "the moves") can be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:51am


    as far as I've heard that is true...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    SomeGuy, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:55am


    I'm pretty sure that's what Mike says at the end of the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    chris (profile), Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    SomeGuy, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:58am

    While I can see where they might *legally* have a claim here, I really hope they don't press it. They aren't suffering from the vitamin commercial, and I think that taking legal action would only hurt their image.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:07am

    Wasn't this done first by Jamiroquai anyway? Virtual Insanity video....?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:10am

    I've gotten tired of corporations stealing popular ideas from creative people wholesale, without any repercussions, to hock their wares. It really sickens me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Matt Bennett, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:16am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Danno, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:17am


    Actually, in that video, the floor was stationary and the walls were moving.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Erik, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:21am


    I think that sums this one up best for me. I think they have the right to sue over the choreography, but I have a feeling that while similar, it is not the same and they would lose. Either way, I agree they do have some ground to stand on for a lawsuit in that scenario.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    David, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:53am

    I wonder...

    I wonder if there is no legal action happening, but rather that one or the other party (the vitamin compamy or the band, oor even both) are taking advantage of the "stupid lawsuit effect" that gives free publicity to things you might otherwise not see....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Rob (profile), Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 10:57am

    I Danced on a Treadmill

    I danced on a treadmill actually when I was about six so both parties should pay me. On another note, no idea is original, people had indeed danced on treadmills long before Ok, Go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    inc, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 11:04am

    give me a fucking break... next

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Egat, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 11:21am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Peet McKimmie (profile), Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 11:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    DiscumBob, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 11:46am

    Devo Done It

    Devo had a stage show back in the early 80's (late 70's?) that involved them dancing/performing on treadmills. As others have mentioned, it's an idea that's been around for a while.
    The failed negotiations, however, have a bit of a stink to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Jim, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 11:51am

    Right of Plublicity

    Isnt the true claim in OK GO's rights of publicity? That the company cannot use its "image" (that of dancing on treadmills) for the company's commercial gain?

    The company could be seeking the positive effect of confusing consumers to think that OK GO is supporting its product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    The ad didn't use their choreography: no infringem, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 12:51pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Jake, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 2:05pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    another mike, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 2:13pm

    dancing with [fill in the blank]

    I'm going to post a video of me dancing with a vacuum cleaner. Ol' Blue Eyes can suck it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Kiba, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 3:22pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Kiba, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 3:24pm

    whoops I meant to go into the URL form. I didn't meant to fill the title with my url.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    SilentMountain, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 4:38pm

    Talent Borrows, Genious Steals...

    At least they aren't using people causing automobile accidents to get a hamburger as a marketing ploy (shame on you BK).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Daniel, Apr 22nd, 2008 @ 9:17pm

    Could go either way

    They could have a claim, as that is a very distinctive video with unique choreography. The commercial copies a bit close for comfort.

    But they wouldn't benefit, only lose face if they actually went up against them.

    I think the question is not can, but should.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Jordan, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 9:33am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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