One celebrity trainer has responded to the lawsuit filed against her by another celebrity trainer, calling the case “a frivolous and unprovoked effort to bully a rising competitor.” On the heels of Tracy Anderson Mind and Body, LLC and T.A. Studio New York LLC (collectively, “TA”) filing suit against fellow trainer Megan Roup and her company The Sculpt Society (collectively, “Roup”) in a federal court in California this summer, Megan Roup is looking to get the lawsuit tossed out on the basis that TA has not only failed to make its copyright infringement, false designation of origin, breach of contract, and unfair competition claims, but is engaging in a strategic lawsuit against public participation (“SLAPP”) “aimed at chilling [Roup’s] expression through costly, time- consuming litigation.”
Setting the stage in the September 27 motion to dismiss, counsel for Megan Roup asserts that Anderson, “a self-styled ‘pioneer’ of the dance-fitness movement” filed the lawsuit at hand, accusing Roup of copyright infringement, false designation of origin, and breach of contract. TA claims that “a significant number” of the fitness videos that Roup makes available to her company’s members use copyright-protected exercise sequences that Anderson developed. Beyond that, Roup allegedly co-opted “confidential info” – including “nonpublic transcriptions of choreography routines” that she allegedly accessed while she was employed as a TA trainer – to build her own fitness business, thereby, breaching the trainer agreement she signed, which “prohibits trainers from using or disclosing company ‘confidential info” and which “expressly survives a trainer’s termination of employment.”
Still yet, TA has argued that Roup engaged in false designation of origin by “purposefully conceal[ing] [her] training from and association with [TA] from the public so that [she] can claim to be the original creator of the choreography movements, sequences, and routines that comprise the Sculpt Society Method.”
In the newly-filed motion, counsel for Roup asserts that TA’s claims are “foreclosed by binding Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent,” which hold that “no one ‘owns’ functional exercise movements,” as well as by “the plain terms of the contract TA seeks to enforce against Roup.”
Pushing back against TA’s copyright infringement claim, Roup argues that precedent from the Ninth Circuit “forecloses [the claim] in its entirety.” Specifically, Roup points to the decision in Bikram’s Yoga College of India v. Evolation Yoga, in which the federal appeals court determined that “functional exercise sequences – even if aesthetically pleasing or incorporating choreographic elements – are unprotectable ideas or processes under [the Copyright Act] and non-copyrightable.” The problem for TA, according to Roup’s counsel is that she “repeatedly admits the functional – and thus non-protectable – nature of her exercises, stating that [the TA] method ‘combines choreography, fitness, and cardiovascular movement,’ and is ‘[r]ooted in research, dance and the elements of choreography.”
“These inescapable concessions doom the copyright claim,” Roup claims, noting that even if TA “owns valid copyrights in the DVDs that depict exercises of [her] Method,” the company “does not have – and cannot obtain – a copyright or any other protectable interest in the Method, itself” because the movements at issue, “whether individually or as a compilation,” are unprotectable subject matter.
In addition to looking to get TA’s copyright infringement claim dismissed, Roup also contends that TA fails to make its false advertising claim under the Lanham Act. (The claim centers on two sentences in Roup’s online biography: “I knew that there was something missing from the boutique fitness community, so I combined my passion for dance and love for fitness to create The Sculpt Society. I spent years teaching fitness and developing The Sculpt Society method before launching in 2017.”)
While TA alleges that Roup has peddled “false and/or misleading public statements and advertising that creates the false impression that Roup, on her own, created the choreography” by way of the aforementioned excerpt, Roup argues that “there is no actionable representation of ‘fact’ in the two challenged sentences, as they are classic examples of non-actionable opinions or puffery, which are both nonmaterial and unlikely to induce consumer reliance,” and thus, the claim should be tossed out.
As for TA’s breach of contract claim, that should similarly be dismissed, per Roup. The issue? TA has failed to identify “any actually non-public, protectable confidential info” at play here, which is significant as the contract contains an “express carve out for any publicly disclosed information.” All of the information at issue here, including “the TA Method, and the movements and routines that comprise it, are made publicly available via in-person classes, DVDs, and streaming videos,” Roup claims. Moreover, TA “fails to identify any specific ‘confidential info that Roup obtained that she could not have learned as a member of the public who took [TA] classes,” according to Roup, making it so that “any ‘confidential info that Roup supposedly used in developing [her] Method (which Roup expressly den[ies]) falls within this exception and is not actionable.”
On the contract front, counsel for Roup asserts that TA’s attempt to enforce the confidentiality provision “in such anti-competitive manner constitutes an unenforceable restriction on trade as a matter of law,” which weighs in favor of dismissal.
Finally, in terms of TA’s California unfair competition claim (“UCL”), Roup points to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, asserting that TA’s UCL claim – which centers on the claims that Roup makes about herself on the Sculpt Society website – is “subject to the anti-SLAPP statute because it is based in part on [Roup’s] right to free speech and lacks even minimal merit as a matter of law … as demonstrated above.” As a celebrity fitness trainer and influencer, “Roup is a public figure and her life and biography are an issue of public interest,” and given that TA is unlikely to prevail on the merits of its UCL claim (as it is “derivative of [TA’s] failed Lanham Act claim”), Roup’s counsel states that the claim “should be struck with prejudice under the anti-SLAPP law.”
With the forgoing in mind, Megan Roup asserts that Anderson’s lawsuit should be dismissed prejudice and Anderson’s UCL claim should be struck pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP law.
THE BIG PICTURE: As TFL reported this summer, this case appears to be even more about competition than copyright, which Roup alludes to in her response, stating that TA’s complaint is an “attempt to weaponize meritless claims against Roup for daring to strike out on her own and establish a competing business,” and claiming that “rather than support other women in the fitness industry, Anderson attempts to intimidate them [by seeking to] lay claim to dance-cardio exercises and movement that have their roots in the true pioneers of the field,” including the likes of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons.
It is worth noting, of course, that the lawsuit follows from the stunning rise in popularity of live-streamed and on-demand fitness programming, including subscription app-based services, thanks to gym restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to World Economic Forum data, between Q1 and Q2 2020, alone, health and fitness app downloads grew by 46 percent worldwide. Since then, 74 percent of Americans revealed that they used at least one fitness app during quarantine, with some 60 percent of them saying that they “enjoyed their home workouts so much that they now plan on canceling their gym membership for good.” These sentiments (and the enduring use of at-home workouts apps post-pandemic) have led to increased competition among players in this space.
Not the only companies looking to generate revenue from this shift, Lululemon announced this week that it is launching Lululemon Studio, a new fitness-content platform that would allow customers to access on-demand and live-streamed classes at home by way of the smart-home gym product, Mirror and the Mirror app. Lululemon acquired Mirror for $500 million in June 2020.
The case is Tracy Anderson Mind and Body, LLC, et al. v. Megan Roup, et al., 2:22-cv-04735 (C.D. Cal.)