Thursday, March 31, 2005

Can you copyright yoga sequences?

Bikram Choudhury has developed a style of yoga that involves a sequence of classical positions performed in a heated studio. He has published a book and now wants to copyright not only the book but the yoga sequence itself. A group of yoga teachers are challenging the copyright claims. Here is a report from the Chicago Tribune
Choudhury's yoga is made up of a sequence of 26 postures (each of which is performed twice during a single class) and two breathing exercises. These postures are culled from 84 classical postures and more than 10,000 combinations. …

Hollander [Choudhury's lawyer] contends that yoga is no different from music or any other form of expression.

'There's nothing special about yoga which should make it special or in some way removed from copyright law,' she said. 'In my view it is just a form of expression that has public domain elements to it.'

That view is a stretch to some yoga enthusiasts. 'To say that, basically, a tradition of working with the body can be somebody's intellectual property — no matter how they put them together — seems pretty bizarre,' said Deborah Willoughby, founding editor of Yoga International, a magazine that focuses on the spiritual aspects of yoga. 'It's a violation of the spirit of yoga.'

Copyright law does not extend to an idea or process; it only addresses the way an idea is actually expressed. That means a book, video or photograph can be copyrighted, but teaching a recipe written in a cookbook, for example, could not. [I think that this is a key point. rja]

Athletic movements, such as a basketball star's signature slam-dunk, cannot be copyrighted because sports games are unscripted and have unanticipated occurrences.

'I'm not aware of anyone who has successfully done what Bikram is trying to do,' said Netanel, who has discussed the case in his law classes. 'Which is, through the guise of copyrighting photographs or descriptions of an exercise method, to control the practice of yoga.'

1 comment:

Matthew said...

To what end? Does Bikram want to control who can practice or teach his sequences? Copyright law does (or at least should) not apply at all in this case.