No Copyright on Yoga Poses: US Court – Bikram Choudhury loses Lawsuit

Indian-American yoga guru Bikram Choudhury is not entitled to copyright protection over yoga poses and breathing exercises he uses in hot rooms developed by him, a US appeals court has ruled.

In an order by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California yesterday, a bench of three judges ruled in favour of city-based Evolation Yoga, against whom Mr Choudhury had filed a lawsuit in 2011.

In the lawsuit, Mr Choudhury had claimed that Evolation founders, the husband-wife duo of Mark Drost and Zefea Samson had set up a “copy-cat yoga system that offers classes that utilise and infringe” on his copyrighted sequence of yoga postures.

The appeals court ruled that the sequence of yoga poses and breathing exercises developed by Choudhury was not entitled to copyright protection because “it was an idea, process, or system designed to improve health, rather than an expression of an idea”.

“Because the Sequence (of yoga postures) was an unprotectable idea, it was also ineligible for copyright protection as a compilation or choreographic work,” it said.

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Mr Choudhury founded the ‘Bikram Yoga’ form of exercise, which is among the most renowned forms of the art, with participants performing yoga postures in rooms heated to 40.6 degrees Celsius.

The court noted that the Indian practice and philosophy of yoga date back thousands of years and “derived from ancient Hindu scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita” and that the practice of yoga teaches students to attain spiritual fulfillment through control of the mind and body.

The judges said that the question of whether the sequence of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Mr Choudhury “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,” they said, adding that by claiming copyright protection for the sequence of yoga postures, Mr Choudhury “misconstrues” the scope of copyright protection for compilations.

“Our day-to-day lives consist of many routinised physical movements, from brushing one’s teeth to pushing a lawnmower to shaking a Polaroid picture, that could be… characterised as forms of dance,” the judges said.

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