Bikram Choudhury, creator of Bikram Yoga, has sued Yoga to the People of NYC and Evolation Yoga of Buffalo, NY for using his pose sequence to offer Bikram style classes. Yoga to the People is a group of studios similar to Yoga District. They offer a wide variety of classes at their five New York studios for a $10 “suggested donation.” In New York, where most classes cost upwards of $20 each–this a unique and valuable model to reach all people through yoga.
Bikram's sequence is a 90-minute class with a scripted dialogue to guide students through 26 postures, each completed twice in 105 degree heat. Having practiced Bikram yoga at Evolation Yoga in Buffalo, I can say its a worthwhile practice for a certain type of yogi. Bikram yoga is not for everyone. It's an intense form of exercise that involves pushing your body to extremes for health benefits.
The United States copyright Office has decided that yoga poses are “exercise” and not “choreography” and thus cannnot be copyrighted. They are instead public domain. The chief of the Copyright Office's Performing Arts division said that exercises like yoga “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography. We will not register such exercises (including yoga movements), whether described as exercises or as selection and ordering of movements.”
Bikram Yoga lawyer Robert Gilchrest countered that the Copyright Office has in the past issued copyrights for exercise videos. “But now they’re saying they’re looking at it again and they’ve changed their mind?” Gilchrest said. “It is meaningless to this litigation.”
Greg Gumicio, owner of Yoga to the People said, “I very much regret that Bikram has brought this lawsuit. He was my teacher. I continue to respect him and to honor his accomplishments. He has done more than perhaps anyone else to inform people — in the United States and the world — of the benefits of yoga. The particular style of yoga he has popularized has improved the health of countless practitioners. Arguably, Bikram deserves the material rewards that these accomplishments have already brought him.”
Gumicio has created an online petition for people who believe yoga should not be copyrighted or privatized. Can someone “own” yoga? What do you think?