Bikram Yoga Founder Can't Copyright Ancient Poses, Court Rules

by Keith Wagstaff /  / Updated 

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A court found Bikram Choudhury's attempt to copyright a series of yoga poses a bit of a stretch.

Choudhury, creator of Bikram Yoga, attempted to sue Florida-based Evolation Yoga for teaching what he claimed was his signature sequence of poses.

Practicing Bikram Yoga involves performing 26 poses in a prescribed order inside a room heated to 105 degrees. Many studios not affiliated with Choudhury offer classes with a loosely similar philosophy under the banner "hot yoga."

On Thursday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that Choudhury's sequence of poses weren't protected under copyright law.

"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.

Related: Want to Try Hot Yoga? 5 Essential Tips for Beginners

Choudhury helped popularize yoga in the United States with his 1979 book "Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class." But with success hasn't been without controversy. The founder has been hit with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits, all of which Choudhury has denied.

The court compared the Bikram Yoga sequences to recipes in a cookbook. Even if a particular cookbook is protected under copyright law, the recipes it contains are not.

"Although there is no cause to dispute the many health, fitness, spiritual, and aesthetic benefits of yoga, and Bikram Yoga in particular," Wardlaw wrote, "they do not bring the sequence into the realm of copyright protection."

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