Bikram's Yoga College of India, LP and Bikram Choudhury cannot copyright hot yoga poses, according to a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Oct. 8 that affirmed a prior court's ruling from 2012.
The district court ruled that a sequence of yoga poses and breathing exercises does not have copyright protection, allowing hot yoga to continue to be taught.
Choudhury, who founded Bikram's Yoga College of India and Bikram yoga, sued Evolation Yoga LLC, a yoga studio in New York, in 2011 for copyright infringement by using many of his poses in the company's hot yoga classes.
In November 2012, the Central District of California ruled that the sequence was not entitled to protection and granted a partial summary judgment requested by Evolation. Choudhury appealed, setting the stage for the district court's decision this month.
The case related to whether the 26 yoga poses and the two breathing exercises that Choudhury developed and described in his 1979 book had copyright protection.
"This question implicates a fundamental principle underlying constitutional and statutory copyright protection—the idea/expression dichotomy," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in this month's ruling. "Because copyright protection is limited to the expression of ideas, and does not extend to the ideas themselves, the Bikram Yoga Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright protection.
Choudhury had said that people who taught the poses should pay a licensing fee to his company.
Yoga Alliance, which supports and promotes education and research by securing grants and donations, supported Evolation Yoga by providing copyright expertise through its legal counsel.
"There is no question that Mr. Choudhury has been responsible for spreading the power of yoga to millions of new practitioners across the globe," Richard Karpel, president of Yoga Alliance, said in January 2014 when Yoga Alliance filed a brief in support of Evolation Yoga. "But the important work he has done to help popularize yoga doesn't give him the right to stifle competition and claim ownership over an asana sequence, which would invite copyright chaos in the yoga community."
Choudhury is not done with the court system yet. Choudhury faces at least six lawsuits by women who accuse him of sexual assault.