Yoga; the word brings a mental image of a healthier version of oneself. Almost every individual in the world is aware of or has tried at least once, in their lives, a yoga pose or two. It is also not a surprise that many ‘foreign elements’ have tried their level best to garner intellectual property protection for ‘Yoga’ or the various poses, which is already afforded protection as being the ‘traditional knowledge’ of India.
Recently, Indian-American yoga guru Bikram Choudhury was in news for pursuing copyright over yoga poses (or asanas) as well as breathing exercises used in Steam Rooms in fitness centres/gymnasiums, one of the former developed by him, which was denied by a U.S. Court of Appeals. In an order by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California yesterday, a bench of three judges ruled in favour of city-based Evolation Yoga, owned by husband-wife duo of Mark Drost and Zefea Samson, against whom Choudhury had filed a lawsuit in 2011. Choudhary claimed in the said lawsuit that Evolation duo had set up a carbon-copy yoga system that provided yoga classes, the same exploiting and infringing upon his copyrighted yoga sequences and postures.
Choudhury is renowned for the ‘Bikram Yoga’ form of yoga exercise, which is among the most distinguished practices of the art of yoga, with partakers performing yoga postures in the steam rooms being at a temperature of 40.6 º Celsius.
The Appeals Court elaborated that the yoga sequences and postures as well as breathing exercises developed by Choudhary were not entitled for a copyright protection as it was an idea, process, or system designed to improve health, rather than an expression of an idea. Moreover, the sequences and postures were an unprotectable idea, thereby being unqualified for copyright under compilation or choreographic work. They further noted that yoga, being an Indian practice and philosophy dated back to thousands of decades and originated from ancient Hindu mythology, relics and scriptures, including the religious text, the Bhagavad Gita. They further added that the practice of yoga taught individuals to accomplish transcendent fulfilment by controlling the mind and body.
The judges went on to explain the essential principle underlying statutory and legislative copyright protection as well as the idea/expression dichotomy with respect to the sequence of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Choudhury as venturing into the same, owing to the fact that copyright protection is solely limited to expression of ideas and not to ideas itself.
Hence the appeals court ruled that Bikram Yoga Sequence was not a proper subject entitled for protection under copyright. They added that Choudhary was having a wrong notion about the scope of protection accorded by copyright for compilations by appealing for the same.