Over the years Bikram Choudhury has threatened to sue a number of yoga studios for teaching his sequence without taking Bikram Yoga certification. He has also threatened to sue for teachers whose certification lapsed, among many other things. Most yoga studios have settled out of court or backed down. Evolution Yoga in Florida fought back…and won!
Bikram Yoga is the practice of 26 asanas in a heated room. Many studios have a similar class and simply call it, “hot yoga.” For quite a while now Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the Bikram yoga, has been attempting to copyright his yoga sequence of 26 asanas as a measure to prevent studios from teaching “hot yoga” with his sequence…without paying him to become a Bikram Yoga teacher, of course.
“The very essence of Bikram Yoga is that its postures are performed in exactly the same sequence, with exactly the same instructions and commands, in a room heated to 105° Fahrenheit, in every class,” said Choudhury’s complaint. “The intended benefits from Bikram Yoga can only be derived if the yoga class is performed precisely as Bikram developed it.”
The suit was filed against Evolation Yoga and its founders Mark Drost and Zefea Samson. Mark and Zefea teach growth and transformation through hot yoga and mediation with the goal of making you happier, healthier, and more in touch with the Self.
I interviewed Mark and Zefea a year ago (read it here). Mark told me he first started practicing Bikram Yoga 16 years ago. Prior to opening Evolation, Mark was a member of Bikram’s training staff for 6 years.
The court document filed by Bikram Choudhury’s lawyer against Mark and Zefea says they signed contracts prior to receiving their Bikram Certification that restrict the use of Bikram Choudhury’s intellectual property. The document claims they were prohibited from using Bikram Yoga to “promote the business of other yoga systems or studios that teach Bikram Yoga along with other forms of yoga.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled against Bikram Choudhury on October 8th 2015 saying you can’t copyright yoga poses. The court compared it to a cookbook stating the cookbook itself can be copyrighted but the recipes cannot.
“Copyright protects only the expression of this idea — the words and pictures used to describe the sequence — and not the idea of the sequence itself,” wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw in the court’s decision.
This is a huge triumph for yoga studios everywhere, and will certainly set the precedent for teachers in the future who wish to copyright and license their “own” sequences.