No matter how graceful the flow or beautiful the poses may be, the Federal Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit held that Bikram Choudhury’s sequence known as Bikram Yoga – 26 poses performed in the same order over 90 minutes at temperatures around 100°F – is not within the subject matter of copyright. The decision is consistent with the policy statement of the Copyright Office issued in June 2012, which we wrote about here, down to its holding that the sequence does not constitute choreography because the bodily movement is part of a process designed to improve health, and not a dance. Essentially, the sequence failed the idea/expression dichotomy test that is central to copyright law – the sequence is the idea, rather than the expression of that idea. Judge Wardlaw, writing the opinion for the panel, wrote: “[I]f it is entitled to protection at all, that protection is more properly sought through the patent process.”
Other forms of hot yoga have proliferated among studios in the years while this debate swelled. What the decision will mean for the yoga community – one that continues to grow in terms of success year after year – remains to be seen. For those with a watchful eye on copyright law, it is potentially meaningful that the opinion refused to consider the sequence a compilation and break down the sequence into carefully arranged parts. It observed the futility of that effort by comparison to recipes, another sequence of steps not generally subject to copyright. It also refused to decide whether to adopt the Copyright Office’s definition of “choreographic work,” because “all categories of works eligible for copyright protection, including choreographic works, are subject to the critical requirements and limitations of Section 102 [of the Copyright Act].” The full decision can be found here.