A sequence of 26 yoga poses by Bikram Choudhury cannot attain copyright protection because they are ideas, a federal appeals court has said.
Copyright protection extends rights to protect the expression of ideas, but does not protect the ideas themselves, thus the Bikram Yoga Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright protection, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week.
The ruling is a victory for Mark Drost and Zefea Samson, two students of Choudhury’s Bikram teacher training, who launched their own programs.
The court upheld a trial court decision that the “Sequence” developed by Choudhury and described in the 1979 book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, is idea that is not protectable.
The Indian practice and philosophy of yoga is thousands of years old, derived from Hindu scriptures including the Bhagavad Gita. It teaches students a diverse set of spiritual, philosophical and physical disciplines. Some use it as a spiritual journey while others focus on improving health and fitness.
It was embraced in the U.S. in the last century, particularly by Hollywood celebrities as a tool to fight aging and illness.
In 1971, Choudhury, a self-proclaimed “Yogi to the stars,” arrived in Beverly Hills and became a leading figure in popularizing yoga in the U.S.
He created a sequence of 26 yoga poses that emphasized the physical components of yoga and breathing exercises. The practice takes 90 minutes and is done in a room heated to 105 degrees to simulate Choudhury’s native climate.
Drost and Samson completed Choudhury’s teacher training in 2002 and by 2009 founded Evolation Yoga, which included “hot yoga” similar to the Bikram system.
Choudhury sued in 2011, arguing Drost and Samson had infringed his copyrighted works through use of his practices for their yoga classes, particularly “the sequence.”
The 9th Circuit asked if the copyright protection for Choudhury’s 1979 book extended to the Sequence itself.
“Under the fundamental tenets of copyright law and consistent with the precedents discussed above, the answer is no,” wrote Judge Kim Wardlaw.
‘In drawing the ‘difficult’ line between idea and expression in this case, we are mindful of the ‘guiding consideration’ of the idea/expression dichotomy: ‘the preservation of the balance between competition and protection reflected in the patent and copyright laws,” Wardlaw wrote.
She concluded it is not a choreographic work or a compilation, but simply an idea, process or system, which copyright may not protect.
The ruling grants a partial summary judgment for Evolation.
Case: Bikram’s Yoga College of India v. Evolation Yoga, No. 13-55763