Up Dog, Down Dog: Yoga CR in Corpse Pose

December 4, 2012

By Cheryl L. Hodgson

The U.S. Copyright Office has issued a Statement of Policy for Registration of Compilations restricting the definition of a compilation in the U.S. Copyright Law.  Read more about the policy here.

The Copyright Act defines a “compilation” as a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. One of the more controversial compilation copyrights involves a compilation copyright for a series of 26 yoga poses registered by Bikram Yoga. 

The Act has always contained a limitation on copyright protection, precluding registration for “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

In the new Compilation Policy Statement, the Copyright Office specifically noted that sequences of yoga poses are not copyrightable despite the prior registration of such works.

“A selection, coordination, or arrangement of exercise movements, such as a compilation of yoga poses, may be precluded from registration as a functional system or process.”

Bikram Yoga Colleges of India has sued a number of its former teachers for copyright infringement based upon Bikram’s copyright registration for his Beginning Yoga Class book first published in 1979, which contains a description of the Bikram Asana Sequence. He also obtained a registration covering his Advanced Yoga Class Asana Sequence.

As recently as September 2011, Bikram sued yet another former teacher in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in Bikram’s Yoga College of India, L.P. v. Raiz for copyright infringement of his sequence of 26 different (and 7,000 year old yoga) asanas. Some in the burgeoning global yoga community have questioned the filing of these suits based upon his claimed rights in the sequence of postures.

In the same lawsuit filed against Ms. Raiz, Bikram also alleged ownership of a trademark in “Birkram’s Basic Yoga System” and in “Bikram’s Asana Sequence of 26 Yoga Postures.” According to the U.S. Trademark Office records, Bikram’s application to register 26 yoga postures as a distinctive trademark was abandoned in 2003 after the U.S. Trademark Office refused registration.