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Is YogaGlo Evil?

in Business of Yoga, YogOpinions

yogaglo_patentby J. Brown

Just as good riddance was being given to 2013, YogaGlo, a prominent online yoga video service, was awarded a patent on a set of criteria for producing yoga video.  In a statement released just before the holidays, Yogaglo defended its position and offered examples of alternative methods that are not in violation of the patent.  A consideration of their suggestions and the precedents being set raises serious questions about the future of yoga on the internet.

Most people in the yoga world have heard about the YogaGlo issue.  Richard Karpel, the CEO of Yoga Alliance, led the charge petitioning against the patent quite publicly and forcefully.  Even after the cause was ostensibly dashed by the final decision of the patent office, Mr. Karpel sharply questioned the patent’s enforceability.  But despite the attempt to rally the yoga community and block what many see as an impingement upon the free market of yoga, there has not been much uproar outside of the inner yoga blogosphere.  No one seems to know what the patent really does or means and, consequently, most folks don’t see it affecting them or care much.

I have no direct experience with YogaGlo.  I do have close friends who are featured and know many people who have made use of the service.  Facebook comment threads are long with both detractors and supporters of YogaGlo and their newly gained patent.  But even among supporters, there is a general lack of perspective on the business aspect of online yoga transactions.

When most people purchase online a streamed yoga video of a particular teacher, they think of the money they are spending as a show of support to that teacher.

What most people don’t realize is that the revenue that comes from a streaming service does not really go to the teacher (see this diagram from an anti-YogaGlo website.)  As misguided as it may be, teachers willingly give up their content to Internet portals because it is thought to give them “exposure” to a broader audience beyond their own local sphere.  And while the content they give away may indeed be viewed by more people, whether or not that amounts to any actual financial support is another question entirely (see Yoga in a Digital Age.)

Short shrifting content providers aside, YogaGlo realizes that many people think that the steps they have taken are un-yogic.  In their official response, they sought to paint their move as only a small matter of claiming what is rightfully theirs and provided thumbnail images of different yoga videos to say:  “See.  We are not trying to stop you from making yoga video.  Just make yours like these (and we won’t have to send you intimidating letters or take you to court.)”

YGClassescomparison.jpg

But the YogaGlo examples of compliant yoga video are more what you might call “cut-away” shots.  If you only have one camera and you want to set it up somewhere and take one continuous reel of a teacher teaching a class then it would not make sense to have the camera up high or at a severe angle.  A straight shot of the teacher and students would be a standard base line.  The finer details of spacial relationship and configuration of the teacher and students that YogaGlo claims to have invented, and hopes to prevent others from utilizing, are ambiguous at best.

The obscured and most alarming aspect of the YogaGlo claim is that we are not talking about a yoga teacher copyrighting a sequence of asanas as intellectual property, we are talking about the legal ownership of a camera angle.  And not just any camera angle.  But the one camera angle that best allows for a lower budget, single camera shoot.

This is only obvious to me because it just so happens that I recently produced a yoga video and got to experience the process from both ends (see J. Brown’s Yoga Video.)  Given limited resources and production options,  if we had decided to include students (which is in the works for our next project) then we could easily have ended up in violation of the patent.

The most common reaction on the yoga street is agnostic.  It’s hard to believe that you could make it illegal for someone to set up a camera and film themselves teaching a yoga class with some students on each side and a space between them to see the teacher.   No one thinks that YogaGlo is really going to take someone to court every time they post a YouTube video that crosses an imaginable line.  But on some level, they don’t have to.  Receiving an intimidating letter, or even just the threat, and the power to remove content from public platforms are likely enough to muscle out a little more market share.  In a most cynical business sense, the game is already won.

But without content, online yoga video portals die.  And I don’t care what anyone says, the future of yoga is not streaming online video.  The future of yoga is its integration into the everyday lives of people and culture.  Perhaps online yoga video has a supplemental role to play, but the internet’s capacity for transmitting yoga will be determined more by the input of actual yoga teachers than the inclinations of those who man the funnels.

~

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com

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10 comments… add one

  • Prior Art:

    Is there any effort underway to demonstrate, through examples of previously produced yoga instruction (or any sort of exercise, from workout videos to calisthenics to jazzersize) that the proprietary shooting arrangement claimed by yogaglo was not at all original?

  • Here’s one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUgtMaAZzW0

    A “YogaWorks Productions” video (from the Maty Ezraty era) of Patthabi Jois instructing the Ashtanga primary series. It isn’t just one camera or just one angle, but the set-up is clearly the same for one of the angles. YogaGlo clearly did not “invent” that set-up or camera angle. It was used before.

  • Tim

    Yeah, evil, pretty much

  • VQ2

    “What most people don’t realize is that the revenue that comes from a streaming service does not really go to the teacher (see this diagram from an anti-YogaGlo website.) As misguided as it may be, teachers willingly give up their content to Internet portals because it is thought to give them “exposure” to a broader audience beyond their own local sphere. And while the content they give away may indeed be viewed by more people, whether or not that amounts to any actual financial support is another question entirely (see Yoga in a Digital Age.)”

    I have always thought that they (the teachers, not the site itself) get some kind of royalties, as they would in book publishing or in physical analog/digital media recording … So, now it seems you’re telling us that streaming media for yoga is more the ’50′s-era broadcast radio Payola model at its most egregious–or like Pandora radio, at its best…? Of course, in the Payola case, the whole thing had become illegal ….

    If that is the case, then YogaGlo is NOT evil …

    YogaGlo is – in its weird way, and not very justifiably so – like as if they’d invented the transistor and put it into a radio … which standardized, compacted and made cheaper/modernized former vacuum tubes … back in the day …

  • David

    “You know you’re doing something pretty bad when the domain name industry calls you out”…

    http://domainnamewire.com/2014/01/17/yogaglo-gets-defensive-with-domains-after-patent-backlash/

  • S.

    A very simple way to stop Yogaglo’s influence is to not use their “product” and not to patronize the teachers who are featured on Yogaglo. It’s not like these teachers are really contributing anything new, they are just cashing in on their youth and flexibility.

  • S: I hardly think any of the teachers are “cashing in”. Also, cursory glance at the roster reveals a number of quite mature, accomplished and popular teachers. I expect most are participating to do exactly what they enjoy: sharing yoga; very likely earning only a very modest sum from doing so. Jason Crandell teaches, I would estimate, 16+ classes a week in San Francisco, for example, has published numerous videos, and works his ass off. He hardly needs Glo to promote his life’s work.

    The patent issue came up quite a bit after Glo had established itself as a dominant player in the online yoga market, and long after most teachers had agreed to shoot their videos for the service.

    I disagree that for the users of this forum, refusing the patronize the site would have much effect on their dubious intellectual property claim, which could have damaging effects on those who not only wish to produce a better product, but for those interested in sharing yoga online, in general.

    The patent claim should be refuted and the company shamed publicly until their management chooses to alter course.

  • David Dulles

    Well said, Justin. Just not patronizing YogaGlo, may not be enough. YogaGlo has 200,000 likes on FB and it’s growing. I was thinking about making a yoga video specifically to disregard their patent and press the issue. I could shoot it, and set it up for streaming sale through vimeo.com. I just need a yoga teacher with a class to work with. I’m in the NY tri-state area.

  • VQ2

    What is so wrong with putting out a DVD?

    Not all of us have the streaming speed. While I have my own, yoga ON my own–partially because of this (I have no need for cablemodem in my life!) I do switch off with those …
    You could do what you want (maybe not sell the rights to myyogaonline if the DVD gets “outdated” enough and this patent gets retroactive rights); get royalties ….

    This is a talk about the technology of mass media–NOT about yoga.

    Yoga happens on the mat and in your life, even without a live teacher; even with yourself as teacher.

  • VQ2

    At the mid-range to high end, seasoned teachers have other possible high-tech, high-streaming speed modes of mass-media/interactive transmission … there is Google + Helpouts and Google + Hangouts; and some people in India, the birthplace of yoga run an interactive site called Divine Wellness … YogaGlo does not own this space and never will … they will grow but so will others … particularly the “real” yoga will grow in the newest technologies … the “one on one” transmission type …

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