A federal court has ruled in favor of a Palm Beach yoga studio owner in finding that the practice of Bikram yoga, or yoga performed in a very hot studio, cannot be copyrighted.
It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the approach favored by Bikram Choudhury, the litigious and aggressive founder of the practice that bears his name.
Over the past 10 years, Choudhury has sued many studios for teaching yoga that he believes is too close to his own system. Many people involved in the yoga community have objected; most yoga poses are thousands of years old, they say, and cannot be considered any one person’s property.
On Dec. 14, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Palm Beach studio owner, finding that a “functional system of yoga postures” is not material that can be properly copyrighted. Choudhury could properly copyright instructional books or videos, but he cannot copyright the ideas and facts they contain.
That decision followed a June decision reached by the U.S. Copyright Office that found that Choudhury could not copyright Bikram yoga.
The lesson to be learned here seems to be that Choudhury pursued the wrong intellectual property avenues. Protecting one’s business is a very smart thing to do, but it might have been wiser for Choudhury to focus on trade secret protection or some other means of protecting Bikram yoga from imitators. In any event, it is far easier to choose the right thing to do when you have the advice of a competent, experienced professional to guide you.
- The Village Voice, “Hold That Post: Federal Judge Rules That Bikram Yoga Cannot Be Copyrighted,” Rebecca Moss, Dec. 19, 2012
- The New York Times, “Feeling the Heat, Yoga Chain Bows to Bikram, Despite Federal Ruling,” Andy Newman, Dec. 10, 2012