Two in-demand fitness trainers face off in a new battle over their respective choreography-based fitness methods. According to the lawsuit they filed in California federal court on Monday, Tracy Anderson Mind and Body, LLC and TA STUDIO NEW YORK LLC (“Tracy Anderson” or “TA”) allege that Megan Roup and her company Sculpt Society are on the hook for copyright infringement, misrepresentation of origin, and breach of contract because “a significant number” of the fitness videos they make available to Sculpt Society members “infringe [TA’s] copyrighted” and “were created using confidential information” Roup had access to while working as a trainer for Tracy Anderson.
Setting the stage in the lawsuit (as first reported by TFL), Tracy Anderson claims that its eponymous founder is the owner of the registered copyrights to “various media, including DVDs created by and featuring Ms. Anderson, who express, relate to, or are based on the TA Method,” a “revolutionary choreography protocol comprised of personalized and specific movements, sequences, and routines that uniquely combine choreography, fitness, and cardiovascular movement “. The New York-based company – whose clients have included a long list of big-name stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna – says Roup became well versed in the TA method, including “training materials [and] transcripts of choreography,” as well as “business information, client lists, and operational procedures, such as specialized methods of greeting clients,” during her tenure as a plaintiff trainer from 2011 to 2017.
“In short, Roup had access to all of the documents necessary to replicate the TA method and related activities, and she wasted no time in doing so,” the plaintiffs claim. Specifically, Tracy Anderson claims that before Roup resigned in February 2017 to start Sculpt Society, which offers “choreography-based mat-based fitness and movement classes and directly competes with [TA]”, she began “to use the confidential information, and access to it, to plan or create the choreography routines, business plan and structure, and promotional materials that would form the basis and help throw [the Sculpt Society].”
Despite signing a trainer agreement in 2011, which “prohibits trainers, including Roup, from using or disclosing ‘confidential company information'” and which “expressly survives the termination of ‘a trainer,’ Tracy Anderson claims that by starting her own business, Roup actually made use of that information, and ‘capitalized on years of research, money, and sweat equity [Ms.] Anderson and the plaintiffs were invested in the development of the TA method. (Interestingly, Tracy Anderson is not filing a trade secret misappropriation claim against the defendants in relation to the confidential information they allegedly misappropriated. The routines themselves could not be claimed (because they are not not confidential), but “business information, customer lists, and operating procedures, such as specialized customer intake methods”, seem likely to fall within this domain if properly kept secret by TA.)
To make matters worse, TA alleges that the defendants peddle “false and/or misleading public statements and advertisements that create the false impression that Roup, single-handedly, created the choreography which includes[s] the [Sculpt Society] Method”, thus giving rise to a risk of confusion for the consumer as to “the origin, nature, source and development” of the Method. TA asserts that the defendants further confuse consumers by “deliberately concealing[ing] Roup’s training and association with [TA] from the public so that Roup can claim to be the original creator of the movements, sequences and choreographic routines that make up the Sculpt Society method.
And yet the plaintiffs argue that such potential for confusion is compounded by the “structuring” of Roup[ing] of the Sculpt Society method such as the TA method. For example, TA claims that “some of the Sculpt Society Method programs are structured on 28- or 30-day schedules, like Anderson’s 30-Day Method,” and include “pre and postnatal programs, and programs that focus on certain body parts, such as the hips or glutes, just like the TA method does. see structured offerings – in 30 day windows with workouts offered/organized by body zones.)
Raising claims of copyright infringement, TA points to a number of defendants’ videos, which allegedly “include Roup or [Sculpt Society] employees performing choreographic movements, sequences and routines that are substantially similar to those described in the [the videos for which TA has copyright registrations], and therefore constitute violations of copyright. For example, TA claims that the defendants’ videos titled “30Min Sculpt 07”, “30Min Sculpt 08”, “30Min Sculpt 09” and “30Min Sculpt w/ Matt 22” include “movements, sequences and choreographic routines that are substantially similar to those depicted in [TA’s] Portion of the DVD from day 21 to 30 entitled “Metamorphosis: Glutecentric”, for which TA maintains a copyright registration.
Additionally, Tracy Anderson claims that the defendants violated the Lanham Act by “intentionally doing[ing] false and/or misleading descriptions or representations of fact likely to confuse the consumer as to the origin of [their] services”, including “deceiving a substantial segment of its audience” into believing that they developed the Sculpt Society method “independent of the TA method” and that they have “no affiliation or training with TA” , among other things. Such statements are “material”, according to TA, because they are “likely to influence the purchase decision of a choreography-based fitness consumer choosing between competing services”.
Submitting a breach of contract claim against Roup in his personal capacity, TA alleges that the trainer “has breached and continues to breach the agreement [she signed in 2011] using and disclosing to third parties the Confidential Information after termination of employment with TA. TA also brings a claim of unfair and/or fraudulent trade and business practices under California law against both defendants.
In light of the foregoing, Tracy Anderson submits that she was “directly and directly harmed” by, among other things, the “unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices” of the defendants, which caused harm to the company, including a ” decrease in goodwill related to [TA] and its services”, as well as “a diversion of sales and customers… towards the defendants [business].” In addition to monetary damages, TA seeks an injunction restraining defendants from “advertising, promoting, or publishing false and/or misleading descriptions or representations of facts relating to the origin and development of the Sculpt Method.” Society”, using the allegedly roundabout method. confidential information they have obtained from TA, and infringe TA’s copyrights.
COVID, copyright and competition
The lawsuit is interesting for several reasons, including the elements of competition and the viability of Anderson’s copyright claims. From a competition perspective, the lawsuit follows the startling rise in popularity of live and on-demand fitness programs, including subscription app-based services, thanks to restrictions on venues. sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the World Economic Forum, between the first and second quarters of 2020, health and fitness app downloads grew by 46% globally. Since then, 74% of Americans revealed that they used at least one fitness app during quarantine, and some 60% of them said they “enjoyed their home workouts so much that they were now planning to permanently cancel their gym membership.” These feelings (and the enduring use of home workout apps post-pandemic) have led to increased competition among gamers in this space.
The lawsuit also comes as the scope of copyright protections for choreography has been a matter for the courts and the Copyright Office. (In more than one case, the cases were prompted by allegations of counterfeit dances on the social media site TikTok.), cohesive and expressive whole,” according to Jeffrey Edelstein of Manatt. “Since choreography is a subset of dance, the Copyright Office will register a choreographic work if it contains a sufficient amount of choreographic authors.”
Although the bar for originality for copyright protection is notoriously low, that doesn’t mean that all choreography has been given the green light as benefiting from such protections. In a closely watched case in 2019, for example, the US Copyright Office refused to register the famous “Carlton” dance that Alfonso Ribeiro, better known as Carlton Banks from the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, premiered and debuted on a 1991 episode of the show. In its February 2019 decision denying Ribeiro’s application to register the choreography behind the dance, the Copyright Office said the dance was not registrable as a choreographic work because it is ” of a simple dance routine. Before that, in a more exercise-centric case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2015 that a sequence of 26 yoga poses did not qualify for copyright protection. ‘author.
Such results necessarily means Anderson is out of luck on the copyright front. “Legislative history indicates that ‘choreography’ does not include ‘social dance moves and simple routines,'” as the Copyright Office noted in a study that focused on choreography. circularbut there could be a chance that Anderson’s routines fall outside this realm and contain “at least a minimal amount of original choreographic authorship”, which for copyright purposes must be “composition and a arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent and expressive whole [compositional] together.”
At the same time, however, it should be noted, as the Copyright Office does in the same circular, that if “a series of dance movements or patterns organized into an integrated, cohesive and expressive compositional whole ” are an example of common elements of copyrightable choreography, compilations consisting of “a series of aerobic exercises” or a “complicated routine consisting of classical ballet positions or other types of dance movements intended for use in a fitness classes” are “not copyrighted as choreography”.
A Sculpt Society representative was not immediately available for comment.
The case is Tracy Anderson Mind and Body, LLC, et al. against Megan Roup, et al., 2:22-cv-04735 (CD Cal.)