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Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

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  • Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

    I'm interested in producing an online video database, as well as dvd's, of martial arts (grappling/wrestling/striking) techniques.

    There are already hundreds of instructional dvds available, many of which contain techniques already contained on other dvd's. When these techniques become known, they spread quickly through the martial arts community.

    Martial arts instructors view these dvd's and teach the techniques to their students. The students use them in tournaments. Many martial arts websites feature these techniques on their websites. The techniques are often filmed and posted to YouTube and other sites.

    It would be difficult to determine who actually "created" the technique, and there are thousands of techniques, considering that most are subtle variations of other techniques.

    In some cases, I can determine where I learned the techniques from... in other cases it would be impossible. The big question is...

    How concerned do I need to be about this? Do I need to reference the source where I learned it from?

    And, if I do need to reference where I learned them from, can I demonstrate any techniques I want as long as I reference the source I learned it from?

    Could I use just one general reference section on my website to cover all the techniques, or do I need to reference each one individually?

    Any advice is appreciated!

    Thank you,
    Bob Dorris

  • #2
    Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

    You need not get permission unless somebody claims a copyright or patent on the method or materials etc.


    • #3
      Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

      Thanks for replying.

      If they've demonstrated the techniques in a book (and the book itself is copyrighted), is that considered a copyright on the techniques contained within the book?


      • #4
        Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

        Not if they are referencing generally known material.


        • #5
          Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

          I am looking for similar information for a patron at my library. He wants to know if he can get a patent on his own self-defense technique and if he can get in trouble for teaching someone else's technique. I am not a lawyer, but from all the research I have just done, I would say "no" to both.

          First, I did a comprehensive literature search in multiple academic databases using this search string ("intellectual property" OR copyright OR patent OR trademark) AND ("martial arts" OR "self defense"). The databases that I use cover literally thousands of magazines and scholarly journals. I got only one relevant citation, but which I don't have full text access to the article. Here is the citation:

          Title: Trademarked arts.
          Author(s): Lye, W.
          Source: Blitz Martial Arts Magazine 2006: Vol. 20 Issue 12. p. 22 1p.
          Abstract: Discusses whether someone can own a martial arts style.

          I have placed an Interlibrary Loan request for this article so hopefully I'll get a copy and it will answer the questions definitively.

          I then searched various Lexis Nexus law databases using iterations of the same search criteria as above. I found absolutely no court cases, newspaper articles, legislation, etc. on this topic, either state or federal.

          Then I searched the US Patent Classification Index and that turned up nothing either. If martial arts styles were patentable, there would have to be a classification code for them. Just for kicks I also did a full-text keyword search on the patents database and got lots of martial arts related patents, but they are all for gadgets (weapons, body armor, face shields, etc.) and none were for styles or techniques.

          Of course, I also did a lot of Google searching which was a waste of time. There are several people out there claiming to have their own patented style or technique but these people probably don't know what a patent is. I would challenge them to show me the patent. For those of you who don't know, the government has to issue a patent which is like a contract, you can't just self-proclaim to have one.

          As far as the original question above, I can almost definitively state that the recording itself is copyrighted and not the style or the moves.

          Again, I am no lawyer, so take all this with a grain of salt. I would be very interested to know the facts myself, but considering there is NOTHING out there on this topic, I'd say that you can not patent or copyright a martial arts style or a self defense technique.


          • #6
            Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

            We would agree generally no and no.

            Unless there is some completely unique aspect to his work, and he moves to protect it etc., the material will be generally public info.

            But if there is something completely unique he could patent and copyright it.

            What is that he proposes...what briefly is the technique etc


            • #7
              Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

              Here is the problem paraphrased. He did not go into detail and I interviewed him on the phone so he couldn't really show or demonstrate.

              The patron is a state prison guard trainer, and he is developing a self-defense training program for his state. He recently attended a seminar where he learned what he says is a simple, basic technique that he would like to use in the program he is developing. He doesn't want to use the whole program, just take certain parts and incorporate into his own program. The person who taught the seminar told him that he would charge a royalty for using "his" technique, even though the technique was very basic and anyone could figure it out (according to the patron). So the first part of the question - is
              it legal to charge a royalty for a basic technique that anyone could figure out?

              Second, the prison guard wants to know, if he were to make a few minor changes to the technique, could he then use it without paying a royalty and could he then also "patent" the moves himself?

              Today I phoned the patron to let him know what I had found, and advised him to seek an attorney's advice. Being an employee of a state penal system, I bet they have an attorney on retainer that he could talk to for free.

              Thank you for responding to my post.


              • #8
                Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

                he cannot really take someone else's progran and adjust it and call it his own

                there really has to be a program of his own design

                obviously there is some grey area


                • #9
                  Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

                  In Canada, techniques are not eligible for copyright since they are not, usually, a unique creation of the person. Eddy Van Halen attempted to copyright/trademark his playing style and he was not able to do so. The body only moves in so many directions and ways so nobody has done anything new. If they could be copyrighted, don't you think the Gracies or Suh In Hyuk (Kuk Sool Won) would have done just as Joo Bang Lee (Hwarangdo) claims to have?


                  • #10
                    Re: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?

                    My understanding:
                    A copyrighted work falls into the public domain 50 years after the author's death, and a patent only lasts 17 years. A traditional martial arts system therefore has no intellectual property associated with it. Regarding newer, practical systems developed more recently, they are just that, "practical." A copyright applies to a fixing in tangible form of a particular ordering of symbols. Symbols are meant to communicate. Martial arts techniques are not symbols, but rather mechanical inventions. Patents would apply if it were not a human being moving to execute them. With a human, there is no mechanism performing the technique. As a contrast, a dummy doing a technique that one is to practice against is patentable.


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