Hot Yoga v. Bikram Yoga: Copyright or Trademark Issue?

by T+B Blog Team on December 16, 2011

Bikram Choudhury, the creator of Bikram Yoga, known for its 26 postures and sweltering 105° F studios, has filed suit against three yoga studios for copyright infringement, trademark infringement and trademark dilution. All three companies, Yoga to the People, Evolation Yoga and Yen Yoga, provide so-called “hot” yoga classes. You can take a look at the court documents for Bikram Choudhury v. Yoga to the People here.

Yoga to the People offers a class called “Traditional Hot Yoga” which is described on its website as consisting of “. . . 2 breathing exercises and a series of 26 poses incorporating balance, strength and flexibility. These classes are done in a heated room of 105-108 degrees.” The company’s owner happens to be a certified Bikram Yoga instructor.

Bikram Yoga founder Choudhury filed a trademark for Bikram Yoga in International Class 41 (educational services) in 2002. Here’s the record from Corsearch® Advantage™:

Regarding the Yoga to the People lawsuit, Choudhury’s attorney said: “The particular class identified in the case is a virtual mirror image of Bikram Yoga and it used virtually verbatim the Bikram Yoga dialogue.” Greg Gumucio, the founder of Yoga to the People, acknowledged that “Bikram owns the right to his name and his likeness,” but says he shouldn’t be able to prevent others from teaching his Yoga sequence. Gumucio says he believes that yoga should belong to “everyone.”

Yoga to the People’s response to Choudhury’s complaint included information from Laura Lee Fischer, acting chief of the U.S. Copyright Office’s Performing Arts Division about whether yoga movements can actually be protected by copyright. Fischer said in an email: “We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”

What do you think about the issues surrounding ownership of yoga?

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