No Copyright for Downward Dog

The practice of yoga dates is thousands of years old.  It encompasses a diverse set of spiritual, philosophical and physical disciplines including the hot yoga promoted by Bikram Choudhury the self-proclaimed yogi to the stars.

Choudhury developed a series of twenty-six asanas and two breathing exercises to be practiced in a particular order he calls the “Sequence” in ninety minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees.  Descriptions, photographs and drawings of the Sequence were included Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class book published and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1979.

Yoga Teacher Barbara Fryefield at Florida Polytechnic

In 2011, Choudhury sued two former students claiming that the hot yoga class offered at their Evolation studio infringed his copyright for the Sequence.  Although, Evolation acknowledged that their hot yoga class mirrored the Sequence, Choudhury’s claim was denied. The trial court’s holding that it was ineligible for copyright protection was upheld on appeal.

The Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C § 102 (b) expressly excludes protection for “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that despite the aesthetic attributes of the Sequence’s graceful flow, it was still an idea, process or system designed to improve health and was therefore excluded from copyright protection.   Although the book’s expression of the system was protected, the Sequence itself was categorically ineligible for copyright protection.

See, Bikram’s Yoga College of India v. Evolation Yoga, LLC, 803 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2015)