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?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mohammed Cohen March 22, 2012 at 11:39 am

Bikram yoga or anyone else can rightfully succeed in obtaining a copyright and trade mark provided their composition of yoga exercise along with very specific dialogue/script with each yoga posture is established and such sequence of yoga postures and accompanying script is not a copy of an existing such yoga method. In case of “Bikram hot yoga” that is in existence and being practiced for last three decades or so do clearly qualify to copyright and trade marked. No court can negate the fact that there are millions of musical compositions based on 7 notes and each of such millions of musical compositions obtain copyrights thus fully protected under the laws. Therefore, Anyone can create a copyright yoga method based on hundreds of ancient yoga postures and with such new creation of yoga methods that may consist of a particular sequence of postures with very specific script accompanied with each posture, would qualify to be granted a copyright or a trade mark. No court could possibly open this pandora’s box if Bikram’s copyright is negated. I am certain Bikram would prevail in any and all such challenges now or any in the future!

Jacqueline May 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Does anyone know what the final verdict was?

Eric Maier December 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

On December 14, 2012, the Court in Bikram v. Evolation Yoga granted Evolation Yoga’s motion for partial summary judgment, ruling that the sequence of 26 yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises are NOT protected by copyright. In other words, Bikram cannot stop other studios from offering yoga classes that teach this sequence. The case is Bikram’s Yoga College of India v. Evolation Yoga, United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. CV-5506-ODW.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: