That signature yoga routine you coined, taking your students from cobra to downward dog to warrior pose—all in one fluid movement? No longer will you be able to prevent other studios from adopting your method. The Copyright Office announced on Friday that it made an error when it issued previous registration certificates for yoga sequences as “compilation authorship” as a result of the “selections and arrangement of exercises.” A compilation is defined in the Copyright Act 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.”
The Office explained that, while the definition may make it seem that any organization of preexisting material may be copyrightable, in actuality copyright protection only extends where the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship within one or more of the eight categories of authorship listed in Section 102(a) of Title 17. These are: literary works; musical works, including any accompanying words; dramatic works, including any accompanying music; pantomimes and choreographic works; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures and other audiovisual works; sound recordings; and architectural works. The Copyright Office takes the position that a yoga sequence, where particular movements and the order in which they are to be performed are said to result in improvements in one’s health or physical or mental condition, does not rise to the level of choreographic authorship.
What does this mean for yogis everywhere? Simply put, an exercise routine is not a category of authorship in Section 102. Therefore, a compilation of physical exercises is not copyrightable subject matter. It is possible, however, to seek copyright in the selection, coordination or arrangement of photographs, drawings or writings that depict the exercises. Since Congress determined that choreography does not include simple social dance steps and routines, a compilation of physical movements would have to comprise sufficient attributes of a work of choreography to get copyright protection. The work would have to be “the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into an integrated coherent, and expressive whole” to rise to the level of chorographic authorship. 77 Fed.Reg. 37,605. A series of yoga poses is just not enough.