California residents may have heard about a popular yoga practice called Bikram Yoga. It is a series of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises that are performed in a 100-degree room for an hour and a half. Bikram Choudhury, the yoga guru who developed it, has copyrighted his yoga sequence and sued several of his former students for teaching it.
Although it is known that ancient yoga poses, or asanas, are in the public domain, there is debate over whether Choudhury has the right to trademark a signature series of asanas. Many people argue that copyrighting yoga sequences goes against the spirit of yoga, but Choudhury’s sequence may be viewed as a creative expression such as dance choreography or a pantomime.
The copyright registration that Choudhury owns for Bikram Yoga still stands, but the United States Copyright Office has refused to issue any similar copyrights of yoga sequences. In 2012, the Copyright Office stated that the Bikram Yoga copyright registration had been a mistake, and it would not issue any more registrations like it in the future. After the Copyright Office’s policy statement, a case was filed against Choudhury in which the claimant stated that any yoga sequence that could result in physical or mental health improvements is not copyrightable. The court sided with the plaintiff, but the decision in Choudhury’s appeal is still pending.
Intellectual property can often be more valuable than the physical property a company owns. To avoid future financial losses, the owner of a company with valuable intellectual property may want to work with an attorney to register copyrights and trademarks.