Copyright Law

Yoga poses are about healing, and not copyrightable, says 9th Circuit

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A series of 26 poses, which yogi Bikram Choudhury claims to have created and refers to as “the sequence,” is an “unprotectable idea” which cannot be copyrighted, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The court found that Choudhury’s breathing exercises are also not subject to copyright protection, the Recorder reports, despite a 1979 book he wrote detailing the practice.

Choudhury’s techniques make up what he calls Bikram yoga, which has strict rules about the sequence of poses, breathing methods and the temperature and furnishings of studios. Choudhury has licensed hundreds of studios across the United States, and his boot camps bring in $4.9 million annually, the Washington Post reports.

Choudhury has written books which he does have the copyrights to, but he was seeking a ruling to restrict to himself the right to teach the methods he developed, the Post writes. Evolation Yoga, a national collective of yoga teachers and studios co-founded by a former member of Choudhury’s training staff, was named as a defendant in the case.

Judge Kim Wardlaw, who wrote the opinion (PDF), notes that the practice and philosophy of yoga dates back thousands of years. Choudhury, who is from India, began his study of the practice as a 4-year-old, and has been teaching yoga in the United States since the early 1970s.

The lawsuit, Wardlaw wrote, was attempting to secure copyright protection for “a healing art: a system designed to yield physical benefits and a sense of well-being.”

The opinion upholds a Central District of California ruling that found “the sequence” is not appropriate for copyright protection.

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