Los Angeles Judge Rules Yoga Poses Cannot be Copyrighted

December 18, 2012, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - A Los Angeles judge dismissed copyright infringement claims against a chain of yoga studios that teaches classes based on Bikram Choudhury’s hot yoga system without obtaining his consent.

According to U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright of the Central District of California, Evolation Yoga LLC could not be held liable for copyright infringement for teaching and practicing Choudhury’s system, which consists of performing a sequence of 26 yoga positions in a room kept at 105 degrees.  Wright said that though Choudhury’s books and videos that describe his system are copyrighted and therefore protected, only things like the text and artwork of the books and videos can be copyrighted, the poses themselves cannot.

In his ruling, Judge Wright wrote “Plaintiffs assert that … anyone performing the sequence, as taught by Choudhury’s books and videos, commits copyright infringement, but this argument is tenuous — facts and ideas within a work are not protected; only an author’s expression of them is.”   This reasoning coincides with the U.S. Copyright Office’s policy paper it released in June regarding the copyrighting of yoga sequences.  The policy paper stated that yoga moves do not fall under one of the Copyright Act’s eight categories of authorship, and therefore any registrations for yoga moves should be rejected.  In a response to the ruling, Evolation co-founder Mark Drost made a statement in which he expressed that the ruling confirmed what he had believed all along, that yoga is something that belongs to everyone and cannot be owned.

Evolation Yoga is only one of several yoga studios who have been sued by Choudhury, who believes he has an exclusive right to teach his popular hot yoga system.  In the mid-2000s, a group of studios that practiced Bikram yoga asked for declaratory judgment that they were not infringing Choudhury’s copyrights.  The Copyright Office at that point did not have a policy on yoga poses and the studios ended up settling with Choudhury.

About five weeks ago, New York-based Yoga to the People Inc. agreed to stop teaching Bikram yoga in order to escape Choudhury’s litigation and several copyright cases against other yoga studios are still pending.

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