'Hot yoga' founder loses fight to copyright poses

2015-10-20 18:41


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San Francisco - A California appeals court has ruled against the infamous multi-millionaire yogi and founder of 'hot' yoga, Bikram Choudhury, ending his decade-long legal battle to copyright his sequence of yoga poses in a heated room.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw described Bikram'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."

Personal wealth

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

It's a victory for the yoga community and a slap in the face for the self-styled guru, who appeared to some as being more interested in amassing personal wealth and recognition than staying true to the essence of yoga.

Bikram is a character: He claims to have magical powers making him irresistible to women.

He's facing a number of lawsuits by women who claim he sexually harassed or raped them- charges he denies.

Judge Wardlaw added that "although there is no cause to dispute the many health, fitness, spiritual and aesthetic benefits of yoga, and Bikram Yoga in particular, they do not bring the sequence into the realm of copyright protection."

Sequence of poses

Intellectual property experts agree that Bikram 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. 

This case was not so much about who owns yoga, but whether yoga can be owned at all - whether it can be copyrighted as an expression of intellectual property.

In this latest case, the court rejected Bikram's claims that his sequence of poses constituted a choreographed compilation and entitled him to copyright protection.

The wider yoga community agrees that Bikram stopped being a yogi when he tried to own yoga.

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