Bikram Yoga Protected by Trademark NOT Copyright - It's Hot!

Updated October 13, 2015 -

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the partial summary judgment finding yoga sequences are not protected by copyright law. See BIKRAM'S YOGA COLLEGE OF INDIA, LP v. EVOLATION YOGA, LLC, No. 13-55763 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2015).

The court states:

Although there is no cause to dispute the many health, fitness, spiritual, and aesthetic benefits of yoga, and Bikram Yoga in particular, they do not bring the Sequence into the realm of copyright protection. The Sequence falls squarely within Section 102(b)'s exclusions from copyright protection, no matter how it is labeled or how ably the label is argued. Therefore, the district court properly granted Evolation's motion for partial summary judgment.


Original Post on January 4, 2013

U.S. Copyright Office - No Protection for Yoga Sequence

Get Hot -- The US Copyright Office issued a ruling in June 2012 that yoga sequences are not protected by copyright.  Studios offering "hot yoga" should now be in the clear from lawsuits brought by Yogi Bikram Choudhury so long as the name BIKRAM is not used. Yogi Bikram Choudhury developed the "Bikram" style of hot yoga and according to records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been using the brand name "Bikram" since 1971 in offering his yoga classes and instructional materials.  The craze of "hot yoga" (which even as a yoga student, I do not understand), has taken the U.S. by storm.

Choudhury, diligent about licensing his rights to the BIKRAM trademark and instructional method, sues yoga studios offering "traditional hot yoga"  even if the name BIKRAM is not used to describe the course.  Choudhury has multiple copyright registrations for his yoga instructional videos and materials.  He is claiming a copyright in the sequence which is a compilation of 26 poses and two breathing techniques.

Two Cases - Two Different Results

Two very different results were reached in recent court cases filed by Choudhury.  In the Central District of California (Western District), Choudhury sued the studio Yoga To The People claiming copyright infringement of the sequence.  The suit, after discovery and mediation, settled in November 2012 with the defendant agreeing not to offer "hot yoga" at his studio.  Perhaps the defendant should have stuck it out with the case a bit longer as a different result was reached in a very similar case.

Choudhury sued Evolation Yoga, LLC also alleging copyright infringement of the Bikram sequence.  In a motion for summary judgment ruling, The Central District of California held:

There are two reasons why the Sequence is not copyrighted: 1) Choudhury’s copyrights cover his literary and audiovisual works—but only his expression of the facts and ideas contained within, and not the facts and ideas themselves; and 2) even though Choudhury’s works describe the Sequence (and teach one how to do it), a compilation of exercises or yoga poses itself does not fall into any of the copyrightable categories under 17 U.S.C. § 102(a) and is not copyrightable under § 102(b) because it is a system or procedure.

The Evolation Yoga case (Bikram’s Yoga Coll. of India, L.P. v. Evolation Yoga, LLC, 2012 WL 6548505 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 14, 2012))  continues with other issues not resolved by the Motion for Summary Judgment ruling.

Read more here and here.

Image CC by 2.0 Tony and Debbie