Bloomberg News

Yoga Pose Copyright Bid Too Big of a Stretch, Regulator Says

December 12, 2011

(Updates with lawyer’s comment in sixth paragraph.)

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Yoga poses such as head-to-knee stretches and the sequences of the moves are “exercises” rather than “choreography” and can’t be copyrighted in the U.S., regulators said.

The U.S. Copyright Office previously permitted yoga poses and their sequences to be registered, even if those exercises were in the public domain, Laura Lee Fischer, acting chief of the office’s Performing Arts Division, said in response to an inquiry by an attorney involved in lawsuits the founder of Bikram Yoga filed against three yoga studios.

The office reviewed the legislative history of the copyright law and decided that exercises, including yoga, “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography,” Fischer said in an e-mail. “We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”

The e-mail is contained in a response filed yesterday to Bikram’s Yoga College of India’s complaint against New York- based Yoga to the People. Washington lawyer Elliott Alderman, assisting defense attorney Jordan Susman and Harvard Law School professor William Fisher, sought the determination from the Copyright Office.

Evolation Yoga, with studios in cities including Buffalo and Brooklyn, New York, and Yen Yoga, in Traverse City, Michigan, also were sued. All three lawsuits were filed in federal court in Los Angeles.

Validity Presumption

Robert Gilchrest, a lawyer at Silverman Sclar Shin & Byrne PLLC in Los Angeles who represents Bikram Yoga and its founder, Bikram Choudhury, said the e-mail shouldn’t affect his case because Choudhury already had registered a copyright for a book containing his yoga sequence.

“There is a presumption that when a copyright is issued, it is valid,” Gilchrest said. He said the Copyright Office has issued “hundreds of copyrights for exercise videos, but now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind? It is meaningless to this litigation.”

The Copyright Office decision won’t put an end to the litigation because the suits also claim trademark infringement and violation of the teacher-certification agreements.

Breathing Exercises

Choudhury and his affiliated Bikram Yoga studios teach a strictly regimented type of yoga that lasts for 90 minutes and includes 26 poses, two breathing exercises and a scripted dialogue in a room that is heated to 105 degrees. Yoga to the People founder Greg Gumucio was a former student of Choudhury, as were some of the instructors at Evolation and Yen Yoga.

Choudhury said in his complaint that each studio violated his copyrights and trademarks as well as limitations on how and where his students can teach his method.

Susman and Fisher, who represent Yoga to the People and Gumucio, said yoga sequences and poses can’t be copyrighted. The defendants said the hot yoga they offer differs from Bikram yoga. Each studio offers other types of yoga as well.

Gumucio created a website, www.yogatruth.org, and has almost 8,000 signatures of people who agree yoga shouldn’t “be privatized.”

The case is Bikram’s Yoga College of India L.P. v. Yoga to the People, Inc., 11-cv-07998, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles). The other cases filed are Bikram’s Yoga College of India L.P. v. Raiz, 11-cv-7377, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles) and Bikram’s Yoga College of India L.P. v. Evolation Yoga LLC., 11- cv-05506, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

--With assistance from Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles; Thom Weidlich and Chris Dolmetsch in New York. Editors: Mary Romano, Peter Blumberg

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Rosen in New York at erosen14@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this report: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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