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In the Case of Bikram vs Yoga to the People, Copyrighting Yoga, Who Wins?

in Business of Yoga, YD News

This just in! Hot off the…sweat-soaked carpet? From the law offices of Ebeneezer Scroogeji comes the case of Yoga vs Yoga. If you’re following along, here’s a rundown of the situation and the latest to chew over with your morning brew of choice. (notice: it’s advised you check with US Copyright Office to ensure you are not infringing on sequence of homebrew/sipping while reading yoga news methods before proceeding.)

First, this happened: In 2003, Bikram succeeded in registering a copyright under 17 U.S.C. Section 410 for his asana sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. He then proceeded to sue the pants off anyone using the Bikram name without a license, anyone offering a “derivative” style and, including his own certified teachers, anyone going off script or doing something heinous like playing music in class were for game for lawsuit. Every infringement would result in statutory damages of up to $150,000 each. And they did.

Fast forward to today…

Hot Mess: Bikram Sues Yoga to the People for $1 Million

The accused*: Yoga to the People a yoga biz thriving steadily on both coasts, namely for its $5-10 by-donation vinyasa classes and $8 “traditional hot yoga” owned by Greg Gumucio, former Bikram student and “right-hand man.”

*Also sued in September for the same allegations Evolation Yoga (with multiple locations, including Sacred Brooklyn) and Michigan based Yen Yoga.

The accuser: Bikram’s Yoga College of India L.P, the Big Papa Bikram, the Mac Daddy Yogapreneur, Don of Rolls Royces and megaton balls. AKA Elvis’s replacement.

The accusation: Bikram claims YTTP is a “virtual mirror image of Bikram Yoga” and “used virtually verbatim the Bikram Yoga dialogue.” They supposedly have proof from an undercover agent who took a YTTP class in September.

The demands: The ceasing of such “copyright” infringing acts, $1 million in damages, and every sweat-soaked Bikram-ish speedo on the premises. (that last part is assumed.)

YTTP response: On Dec. 9, Greg Gumucio filed his response claiming Choudhury does not have the copyright and included an email from Laura Lee Fischer, acting chief of the U.S. Copyright Office’s Performing Arts Division, in which she states upon reviewing the legislative history of the copyright law, a decision was reached by the office that deems exercises, including yoga, “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography.” Adding: “We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”

Response from Bikram’s lawyer: Pfffbbbbbt.

Actual response from Bikram’s lawyer: “There is a presumption that when a copyright is issued, it is valid,” [Robert] Gilchrest said. He said the Copyright Office has issued “hundreds of copyrights for exercise videos, but now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind? It is meaningless to this litigation.”

Meaning they will still seek money for trademark infringement and violation of the teacher-certification agreements.

Is this a battle over legalities or egos? Is yoga copyrightable? The courts thought so in 2003, but just as the thermostat switch can be flipped to chill, Bikram could lose his hot streak on this one. Stay tuned.

No word yet on whether or not Bikram Choudhury has trademarked, copyrighted, and/or patented his keen fashion sense nor his uncanny ability to put a real damper on the whole huggy, lovey, peace, yoga thing.

Seriously though, whomever “wins” here, what do they really win? Perhaps a better question to ask is what are they fighting for?

[Business Week; DNA info]



12 comments… add one
  • um…. money?

  • Who wins? The lawyers, of course!

  • who wins? the one whose money to pay lawyers lasts the longest.*

    *spoken as a former legal assistant for 20 years on both plaintiffs’ (personal injury/med. mal/construction injuries) and defendants’ (insurance defense) sides.

  • And once again the West ruins something sacred originating from some place else in the world and brought here to make it a better place. Only in America.

  • Ella Martin

    Wittiest thing I’ve read about this so far! But how can anyone become a yoga teacher by paying for a nine week instruction course in the first place? Would you go to a violin teacher who trained for 9 weeks?

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