[INDOLOGY] Court Denies Copyright for Yoga Guru's Moves

Suzanne Newcombe S.Newcombe at lse.ac.uk
Fri Oct 9 14:35:36 UTC 2015

May be of interest to those on these lists...

Courthouse News Service

Thursday, October 08, 2015


PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - A popular yoga master's sequence of poses and
breathing exercises is not entitled to copyright protection, the Ninth
Circuit ruled Thursday.

    Bikram Choudhury - who became a central yoga figure in Beverly Hills in
the 1970s, and whose website declares him "the most respected living yoga
guru in the world" - developed and popularized his sequence through his own
studio, where he began offering "Bikram Yoga" classes.

     Choudhury further marketed the sequence by publishing the 1979 book
"Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class," and he has publicly stated that his
sequence extended the careers of professional athletes like Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar and John McEnroe, according to the circuit's 23-page opinion.

     In July 2011, Choudhury sued Evolation Yoga for copyright infringement
as to the sequence, but a federal judge found that the sequence was not
entitled to copyright protection. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit
upheld the ruling.

     Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw said that "at bottom,
the sequence is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health,"
and "copyright protects only the expression of this idea - the words and
pictures used to describe the sequence - and not the idea of the sequence

     Wardlaw questioned whether "Choudhury's copyright protection for his
1979 book extends to the sequence itself."

     "Under the fundamental tenets of copyright law and consistent with the
precedents discussed above, the answer is no," she said.

     She added that if the sequence "is entitled to protection at all, that
protection is more properly sought through the patent process."

     "That the sequence may produce spiritual and psychological benefits
makes it no less an idea, system, or process and no more amenable to
copyright protection," Wardlaw said.

     And as to Choudhury's contention that the sequence's arrangement of
postures is "particularly beautiful and graceful," Wardlaw said that
"beauty is not a basis for copyright protection."

     "From Vermeer's milkmaid to Lewis Hine's power house mechanic, the
individual engrossed in a process has long attracted artistic attention,"
she said.

     "But the beauty of the process does not permit one who describes it to
gain, through copyright, the monopolistic power to exclude all others from
practicing it. The sequence remains unprotectable as a process the design
of which primarily reflects function, not expression."

     Wardlaw also said that "consumers would have little reason to buy
Choudhury's book if Choudhury held a monopoly on the practice of the very
activity he sought to popularize."

     Choudhury's argument that the sequence is entitled to copyright
protection since it is a "compilation" carried little weight with the
panel, which Wardlaw said "misconstrues the scope of copyright protection
for compilations."

     "That the sequence may possess many constituent parts does not
transform it into a proper subject of copyright protection," Wardlaw said.

     Nor is the sequence a copyrightable "choreographic work," she said,
since "successions of bodily movement" do not become copyrightable as such
when they are "part and parcel of a process."

     Without a proper understanding of the idea/expression dichotomy, she
said, one might obtain monopoly rights over physical sequences "from
brushing one's teeth to pushing a lawnmower" by "describing them in a
tangible medium of expression and labeling them choreographic works."

     Evolation attorney Eric Maier with Maier Schoch in Hermosa Beach,
California, said, "Evolation is very pleased that the Ninth Circuit has
made it clear that yoga belongs to everybody, and no individual owns any
particular style or sequence of yoga poses."

     Attorneys for Choudhury did not respond to request for comment on
Thursday morning.


Suzanne Newcombe, PhD

Research Officer, Inform <http://www.inform.ac>
Reviews Editor, Religions of South Asia
Post-Doc Team Member of ERC Horizon 2020 funded project - Medicine,
Immortality, Moksha: Entangled Histories of Yoga, Ayurveda and Alchemy in
South Asia <http://www.ayuryog.org/>

*19-21 May 2016* *yoga darśana, yoga sādhana: traditions, transmissions,
transformations <http://www.ydys.confer.uj.edu.pl/>*
*An international conference at the* *Jagiellonian University, Krakòw,

Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer: http://lse.ac.uk/emailDisclaimer

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