IP on stage: can I protect an acting method?

Helpline / Sample Case

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We are a small company based in London and active in the theatrical sector, and are currently working with Enterprise Europe Network towards the improvement of our business profile. Our services will be provided throughout Europe and will mostly consist of providing acting classes and related training material, based on an original acting method that we are developing. This method revolves around a new set of exercises and breathing techniques and is completely new! In this context, we were wondering how we can protect our method and/or the exercises in order to prevent other companies or acting teachers from copying them and selling them as their own.


Intellectual property does not protect ideas, simple facts, nor methods as such but only the way in which they are expressed – be it for instance in the form of a literary or artistic work (copyright protection) or in the form of the technical realisation of an idea (patent protection over an invention).

Consequently, the global acting method which you have developed is not protectable as such by intellectual property rights. Similarly, the individual exercises you have created cannot as such be considered as original creative works or innovative works in the meaning of intellectual property law, and therefore should not be protectable by intellectual property rights.

You could of course protect your method and the related exercises by keeping them secret, but this would defeat the purpose that you are currently trying to achieve – making the method known, teaching and spreading it as much as possible. In practice, this means that you cannot prevent other companies or individuals from reproducing this method or some of its specific exercises, or from further teaching them to a class.

However, you have mentioned that you are currently improving your business profile and therefore we understand that your organisation intends to develop a commercial use of the acting method, when spreading it across Europe. To this regard, we believe that intellectual property can be used as an efficient tool by your company, regarding certain aspects linked to your commercial activity. Using this tool to valorise other aspects of your business will help you maintain your competitive edge in the market, and assert your image as the original provider of this particular acting method.

Indeed, there is more to your acting method than the exercises themselves. Exploiting the acting method will require advertising material (brochures, posters…) as well as support or training material directed to student actors (manuals, articles, maybe tutorial videos…). All of these works will constitute literary or artistic works in the meaning of copyright law and will be automatically protected by copyright, as long as they are original. Indeed, copyright protection is granted to original creative works, in particular literary works – this protection arises automatically upon the creation of the work. It lasts for 70 years and grants the author of the work several rights, such as the right to copy it or allow copies to be made, the right to distribute it, to translate it or allow its translation, or the right to communicate it to the public.

In other words, should you describe the exercises accurately in some of these brochures or manuals, your potential competitors will not be able to reproduce these descriptions in their own material, nor to use your words to describe the exercises to their clients, as such unauthorised acts would be likely to constitute an infringement. Please note that copyright protection would in that case only apply to the works themselves and in no way extend to the exercises or method described therein (which are not protectable as such). This is nonetheless a good opportunity for your company to be the first on the market to develop books, teaching guides or brochures in cooperation with the creators of the method, as it will allow you to build a library of high-value material (“approved” by or involving the creators of the method themselves) which your competitors will not be authorised to sell, nor to duplicate or distribute.

Furthermore, should you lean towards a commercial exploitation of the acting method, we would recommend filing for trade mark protection over its name (and/or any other name used when offering services in relation to this method) and any other distinctive sign used for this purpose (e.g. a logo). Exploiting the method along with one or several trade marks will help you create a strong “business identity”, and will prevent competitors from using the same name (e.g. the method’s current name if you protect it as such) to offer similar products or services (teaching material, acting classes, and so on). As your method gains increased attention and recognition, protecting its name will help you keep a competitive advantage: it will prevent competitors from using this name, i.e. from taking advantage of the fact that it is renowned or famous in order to sell their own, similar services.

Building your image through the use of a trade mark, along with a good marketing strategy, will help you position yourself on the market and sell your services in the film and performing arts sectors as the “original” provider of this method.

In this regard, please remember that trade mark protection is territorial, meaning that protection will only apply in the countries where you have sought trade mark registration. It would therefore be advisable to consider the countries where you intend to commercialise the method in the future, and to seek registration in each of these countries.

To conclude, you can make up for the fact that your method as such is not protectable by intellectual property rights, by shaping a distinctive image on the market with the use of various intellectual property tools. Creating a strong image on the market and protecting it is essential. Since your method itself is not protectable, but is easily accessible (by attending a class or reading a book about it) and easily reproducible, only the creation of a strong identity likely to establish your company as the original creator of this acting method will allow you to maintain a competitive edge.