Downward Dog Duplication? Relax, Yoga Poses Can’t Be Copyrighted, Court Rules

By Maura Dolan
Los Angeles Times.

For years, Bikram Choudhury, the Beverly Hills yoga magnate and self-styled “Yogi to the stars,” has threatened competing studios with legal action.

He claimed that he alone had the right to determine who could teach his sequence — 26 poses that include Rabbit, Camel, Locust and Dead Body — that he popularized in a book more than three decades ago.

A federal appeals court disagreed, ruling Thursday that Choudhury’s method was not protected by copyright law and that competitors could not be held liable for teaching it.

“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,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

She described the Bikram succession of poses and two breathing exercises as “an idea, process, or system designed to improve health” and to “yield physical benefits and a sense of well-being.

“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,” she wrote.

The decision was the latest setback for Choudhury, who was born in India and made a fortune with his style of “hot yoga.” He has been hit with several lawsuits claiming he sexually harassed and assaulted women, which he denies. His lawyers and his Los Angeles-based corporation did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The decision against Choudhury came in an appeal of a district judge’s ruling in favor of Evolation Yoga, a Florida studio that Choudhury accused of copyright violation.

Eric Maier, Evolation’s lawyer, described the 9th Circuit ruling as “a very big victory for yoga studios and practitioners everywhere.”

Maier said Choudhury has been “bullying” yoga studios for years in an attempt to have the sole right to teach the 26 poses in the order he developed. Choudhury’s corporation regularly sent studios letters threatening legal action, Maier said, and many buckled. His client fought back.

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