“Trademark” Touchdown Celebration Moves: Are They Legally Protectable?

by T+B Blog Team on October 22, 2013

It’s become a tradition in American football to celebrate a touchdown with everything from a dance, to a pose, to a leap, and even a kiss (on a bicep). Some signature moves end up with a name like Kaepernicking, Griffining, and Tebowing. And those often end up as catchphrases, which inevitably turn up as registered trademarks … not surprisingly, just as they start appearing on merchandise.

But one that’s hard to trademark is New York Giants Victor Cruz’s celebratory salsa dance. Despite the Giants 1-6 record, or perhaps because of it, there have been many imitators of the Cruz salsa this season, especially from Giants opponents. We’ve recently seen some end zone salsas from a couple of Kansas City Chiefs players (Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster) and from Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. Can Cruz’s “trademark” dance be borrowed so easily?

Cruz happens to be a trademark owner—for his Young Whales clothing line—but he does not own a trademark for those salsa moves. Dance moves, particularly common or traditional dance steps are not protectable. “Even though dance is one of the world’s oldest art forms, the legal framework around it is still one of the least developed around,” according to Julia Haye, on the Law Law Land blog.

IP Spotlight points out that last year, the U.S. Copyright Office issued a Statement of Policy limiting copyright protection for exercise routines, sequences of yoga poses, and compilations of dance steps. The Statement included this guidance: “a compilation of simple dance routines or social dance steps is not copyrightable, while an ‘arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated, coherent and expressive whole’ gives rise to choreographic authorship that is entitled to copyright protection.”

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery? Imitations of touchdown celebrations abound: How many times have you seen Green Bay Packers opponents leap into the stands at Lambeau Field in imitation of the home team’s renowned celebration move? And how about all those imitators of former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ Squirrel Dance?

Which sports move do you think will be the next registered trademark? Which one is your current favorite?


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