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UPDATE: Appeals Court Affirms Bikram Can Not Copyright Yoga Sequence

in Business of Yoga, YD News
Bikram's non-copyrightable 26 pose sequence | image via http://www.bikramyogafleet.co.uk/

Bikram’s non-copyrightable 26 pose sequence | image via http://www.bikramyogafleet.co.uk/

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.

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8 comments… add one
  • Anna

    It seems this is a typical Western culture attitude regarding anything. Always a competition to own something, not realizing we really don’t own anything.

    • Yeah, it’s so sad. Copyright and trademark claims have gotten/are getting so out of hand.

  • So true.

  • Jennifer

    Bikram is just a hot mess. Both the yoga, and the man.

  • Daniel

    My Comment: Since the Yoga routine is written in his book, doesn’t the user of any part of his book need written permission from the author to use it ? Isn’t this the “copyright” that all authors or DVD, Movie companies have in there favor to protect there “art” form ? No one alive today can copyright a single Yoga asana because they are “free domain”, however I think if they wish to develop the art of putting together a sequence, they should be able to copyright it or am I wrong? What about the authors of dance routines ?

    • buzzji

      Copyright is primarily a noun, not a verb. A copyright is an asset. It protects the expression of an idea — like a book or poster — not the idea itself. A copyright owner can sue people who copy his published materials, but anyone can use and teach the ideas in them — such as poses and sequences. Copyright can protect the expression of dance routines too, such as choreographic instructions or videos, but it can’t keep people from dancing.

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