Yoga poses can’t be copyrighted, U.S. regulator says

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.

Bloomberg News reports

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 email. “We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”

The email 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.

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

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.

American attempt to patent yoga puts Indians in a twist
Yoga and the art of making money
Bikram Yoga’s New Twists

Lawsuit Pits Bikram Choudhury and Yoga to the People

Thursday’s 11:30 a.m. session at the Bikram Yoga NYC studio in the Flatiron District began as usual: a handful of half-dressed students slowly flapped their elbows as they decelerated their breath and stared at themselves in the mirror. After paying as much as $25 each, they began their mindful workouts in the 105-degree “Torture Chamber,” while outside on Fifth Avenue, pedestrians scurried past in coats.

Meredith Hoffman reports on The New York Times’ City Room blog

A few blocks away, on West 27th Street, about 30 pupils soon began the same breathing exercises, dripping with sweat in the 103-degree heat. But this class, labeled “Traditional Hot Yoga” and offered by the growing studio chain Yoga to the People, cost just $8.

“Yoga should be for everyone,” Matt Hillock, a blissed-out, wrung-out student, said after the lower-priced class.

But Bikram Choudhury, the millionaire founder of Bikram Yoga, believes his kind of yoga belongs to him — he has even copyrighted it. Now, he has sued Yoga to the People for copyright infringement, seeking monetary damages and asking a federal judge to block Yoga to the People from offering its hot yoga class.

“We sent an investigator to take the classes,” Robert Gilchrest, Mr. Choudhury’s lawyer, said on Thursday. “The classes were virtually mirror images and the dialogue was consistently the same.”

Despite yoga’s long history, Mr. Gilchrest said that Mr. Choudhury had the right to claim his own 26-posture sequence and the instructor’s dialogue.

“Words have been in existence since women and men started speaking, but you can copyright a sequence of words,” Mr. Gilchrest said.

The founder of the Yoga to the People studios, Greg Gumucio, began as Mr. Choudhury’s student. He said the guru enlightened him by saying, “You are your own teacher. You are responsible for your own experience.”

That led Mr. Gumucio to the realization that high-profile (and expensive) instructors were not necessary for successful yoga study. […]

Mr. Choudhury’s suit, filed in California, where Bikram is based, has a different philosophy — that he is responsible for students’ success. Aspiring Bikram teachers must take his formal nine-week, $7,000 course. Once certified, instructors must obtain his permission to open studios.

The Yoga Mogul: John Friend, founder of Anusara

Yoga John Friend talked about the freedom of Anusara; it’s nothing like the more rigid schools that demand students repeat the same poses in the same way at every single class, nor is it the kind of practice in which teachers withhold praise, lest students become too egocentric. “Anusara is positive,” Friend said, resting his head on the back of his chair and absently caressing one of many highly polished orbs on an adjacent table. “It’s accessible. Easily applicable. And yet it has depth and sophistication.”

Consider those religions that focus on sin and damnation, on discipline instead of joy. “Fundamentally they say no,” he told me. “While Anusara is a yes.” [Read more...]

Hindus, yoga teachers question US sales tax

Yoga Yoga practitioners are criticizing a Missouri sales tax that applies to yoga classes, claiming they should be exempt because the lessons include spiritual elements.

Some practitioners think such a tax is unconstitutional. They argue that yoga, with roots in ancient Indian meditation, is as much a spiritual practice as an exercise routine and should be exempt from taxation. [Read more...]

Bikram Yoga’s New Twists

Bikram Choudhury Bikram Choudhury’s sweaty techniques are a hit with yoga studios. Now he wants his cut, writes Forbes.

Yoga is big business, racking up $5.7 billion in sales last year, and Choudhury has built a cultlike following.

Recent training costs: $10,500 per session, including $3,000 for room and board in Palm Desert, Calif. At two sessions a year, each of which draw about 325 trainees, that’s $4.9 million in annual revenue. To that add 15 speaking engagements, generating about $20,000 each in ticket sales, plus another few bucks from books and dvds. “I’m a yogi, not a businessman,” Choudhury demurs.

Now he wants another revenue stream: franchising fees paid by studios that use his name. [Read more...]