Bikram Choudhury, a Hollywood yoga instructor, claimed that another yoga studio, Evolation Yoga, had infringed on his copyright to a sequence of yoga moves. Choudhury’s “hot yoga” classes were conducted in a room heated up to 105 degrees, and he had been charging a licensing fee and making specific requirements to those wishing to use his set of moves. In a decision on October 8th, the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to grant Evolation’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Evolation had not infringed on Choudhury’s copyright because Choudhury had no valid copyright. Specifically, the Court categorized the yoga moves as an idea promoting health, not an expression. Thus, the Court held, the sequence of yoga moves was not entitled to copyright protection as a compilation or a choreographic work.
Noah Feldman, a Bloomberg View columnist and professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, argues that the court’s decision was “wrong”, claiming that “[t]he stylized, precise sequence of poses arranged by Bikram Choudhury, and performed in a 105 degree room, should’ve been treated as choreography, entitled to copyright protection, not as an abstract expression of medical ideas.” He went on to compare yoga to ballet in that both have an exercise component as well as a spiritual one, and extending the analogy by stating that no one would claim that a set of ballet moves was not choreography deserving of copyright.
The case is Bikram’s Yoga Coll. of India, L.P. v. Evolation Yoga, LLC, No. 13-55763, 2015 WL 5845415 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2015) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Ian Lovett, Court Rules ‘Hot Yoga’ Isn’t Entitled to Copyright, N.Y.TIMES, OCT. 14, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/us/court-rules-hot-yoga-isnt-entitled-to-copyright.html?_r=0. Noah Feldman, Twisted Decision on Yoga Copyright, BLOOMBERG VIEW, Oct. 11, 2015, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-10-11/twisted-decision-on-yoga-copyright.