Bikram loses legal fight to copyright poses

Category : Asanas (Postures), General advice, Philosophy 12th October 2015

Inside Yoga 144 (12/10/2015)

Bikram Choudhury, the founder of hot yoga, has lost his legal fight to copyright his yoga poses, in a court case against Florida yoga studio Evolation.

The appeals court heard how heard how Choudhury, based in California, had sued the Evolation yoga studio for copyright infringement, arguing that a sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises were his alone and the studio did not have the right to teach them.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw described Choudhury’s sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises as an idea, process or system designed to improve health and to “yield physical benefits and a sense of wellbeing. Copyright protects only the expression of this idea – the words and pictures used to describe the sequence – and not the idea of the sequence itself.”

In other words, this means 69-year-old Choudhury has copyright over his books and DVDs and other expressions of his work, but not the exercise itself.

This is good news for many, including myself, who thought that this action by Choudhury was example of someone who is wants more money (he is already a millionaire), and is driven by greed and the need for power and control.

Choudhury has been teaching in the USA since the 1970s and it’s hard to say when, but he years ago he lost touch with the original meaning of yoga and how it is meant to be taught.

According to one media report: “The wider yoga community agrees that Bikram stopped being a yogi when he tried to own yoga. He stopped being a yogi when he instructed his lawyers to go after those who dared to teach ‘his’ yoga, intimidating smaller studios with limited resources, saying he would have them shut down.

This court case is the tip of the iceberg as there are numerous stories about this man. It is alleged that he had threatened other yoga teachers and yoga studios with legal action and these people had settled, fearful of the power Choudhury appeared to wield. This carried on until one studio, Evolation, called Choudhury’s bluff and let court proceedings take their course. The yoga community owes Evolation a big thank you for taking on Choudhury.

This legal case had serious ramifications if Choudhury had won. The judge said that “although there is no cause to dispute the many health, fitness, spiritual and aesthetic benefits of yoga, they do not bring the sequence into the realm of copyright protection.”

According to reports in the media, intellectual property experts agree that Choudhury stretched copyright law too far.

Had he been awarded intellectual property rights over his sequence, “there would be nothing stopping others from copyrighting routine or specialised physical movements, such as brushing one’s teeth or performing a surgery, as forms of dance or choreography,” said one report.

In last week’s blog I wrote about the film by Bhanu Bhatnagar, “Who owns yoga?”, and at the end Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation, commented on the “sickness of modern societies” as he calls it: “If I discover something in nature, I must own it – intellectual property. If something is for the well-being of human beings, nobody can ever own it, it must belong to everyone.”

Apparently, Choudhury never listened to this message in yoga.

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