Remember when Bikram tried to copyright his yoga sequence of 26 poses? It didn’t work. It didn’t end there and it’s not that simple. But there is good news.
The latest update to the saga is that today, October 8th, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California sided with the previous ruling that Bikram Choudhury’s 26-pose sequence is not eligible for copyright protection.
Via Yoga Alliance:
Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Wardlaw wrote:
“We must decide whether a sequence of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Bikram Choudhury and described in his 1979 book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, is entitled to copyright protection. This question implicates a fundamental principle underlying constitutional and statutory copyright protection—the idea/expression dichotomy. Because copyright protection is limited to the expression of ideas, and does not extend to the ideas themselves, the Bikram Yoga Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright protection.”
The Court affirmed that, although Bikram Choudhury held copyright protection in his published book on his Sequence, he could not thereby invoke copyright to stop others from using the sequences described in his book.
There you have it! Once and for all? Who knows.
The case of copyrighting yoga has been dragged out over years of lawsuits and court hearings. In 2011, Bikram Choudhury (& co.) filed a big million dollar lawsuit against several yoga studios claiming copyright infringement of his 26-pose style and teaching script. He essentially had the right to do this because he actually held the copyright.
(This is the confusing part.)
In 2003, Choudhury 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 everything that moved and breathed that sequence, or anything that was “derivative” of it. This copyright, however, was challenged in the hearings for the million dollar lawsuit which Choudhury filed against Yoga To The People, Evolation Yoga and Michigan-based studio Michigan based Yen Yoga. Greg Gumucio of Yoga To The People settled, agreeing to stop teaching the sequence by February 2013.
But in December of 2012, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled that “even if the manner in which Choudhury arranged the sequence is unique, the sequence would not be copyrightable subject matter because individual yoga poses are not copyrightable subject matter.”
This latest ruling upholds Judge Wright’s decision and lets Evolation Yoga off the hook as well as any other yoga studio or style wishing to include a 26-pose sequence resembling the Bikram sequence. Yoga poses and sequences = not copyrightable.
You can read the full court documents and opinion from the October 8 ruling here.
Losing in court may come as a surprise to the Bikram camp. We’ll have to wait and see what happens the next time he’ll be in front of a judge over rape allegations.