Bikram Yoga Founder Denied Copyright Protection
Bikram Yoga founder, Bikram Choudhury has been fighting a number of civil court lawsuits alleging rape and sexual assault. However, more recently, he has been fighting a copyright battle to obtain copyright protection over the many yoga poses that he has created.
On October 8, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kim Wardlaw ruled that Choudhury does not have the exclusive right to teach the series of poses and breathing exercises he developed. She stated that "The Sequence is an idea, process or system designed to improve health." Essentially, Choudhury has the right to copyright expressions of the Sequence (i.e. books, diagrams and movies), but he is prohibited from copyrighting its execution. Bikram Choudhury was born in India and pioneered Bikram Yoga--a type of yoga typically performed in extremely hot room. He developed this system in the 1970s. The guidelines are extremely stringent and comprises 26 poses that are to be performed in a 105 degree room for a period of 90 minutes. Additionally, the layout and design of the room are also extremely specific--floors must be carpeted, lights must be bright. Lastly, no music is to be played in the room and any language is limited to the most current version of Bikram's Yoga Class dialogue. All of these strict guidelines are written in books--books in which Choudhury does not hold a copyright for.
Choudhury holds extremely profitable bookcamps, performs at speaking engagements and sells books and CDs. He asserts that his system eases health complaints and promotes mental health. He has franchised Bikram Yoga to over 600 studios by the 2000s. But by 2002, there was such a surge in Bikram Yoga studios that were not reputable or authorized under his stringent standards that he began to seek legal assistance. His lawyers sent out cease-and-desist letters to those studios who marketed themselves as "Bikram." Within these letters, he demanded that these unauthorized studios pay for the use of the term and the system. Some smaller firms settled, but larger studios responded by forming the group Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU).
OSYU challenged Choudhury's copyright claims. The cases were settled out of court--thus, the copyright issues were never decided. In 2011, he sued another large entity. A New York chain of studios, Yoga to the People, which was opened by one of his former Bikram Studios. This case also settled and the chain's owners agreed to desist from teaching bikram yoga.
Due to this lawsuit, the United States Copyright office issued a new policy that stated individual yoga poses are not subject to copyright laws.
Most recently, Choudhury is facing a personal legal battle. He is being sued in civil court for allegations that he sexually assaulted women during his training sessions. Choudhury denied the allegations, but six women maintain that their lawsuit has foundation.
In the wake of this personal legal battle, many studios have decided to discontinue their associations with Choudhury and drop "Bikram" from their names. Not long after, Choudhury was hit with a new kind of lawsuit: allegations in civil court that he sexually assaulted women at his training sessions. As of this year, six women are suing Choudhury, a conflict that has opened a schism among the legions of followers who studied under Choudhury and opened studios in his name.