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Sorry Bikram, You Can't Copyright Yoga Poses

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Can you copyright a yoga pose? You could in years past, but now the U.S. Copyright Office says it's too much of a stretch.

The Copyright Office's Performing Arts Division recently changed its mindfulness regarding the legal status of yoga in response to a yoga-pose lawsuit, Bloomberg reports. Yoga poses were once considered "choreography" that could be copyrighted, but now they've been classified as mere "exercises" that get no copyright protections.

It's a burning issue that has many yogies fired up -- in particular, devotees of Bikram yoga, a style that involves 26 poses, two breathing exercises, and scripted dialogue over a 90-minute period in a room heated to 105 degrees, according to Bloomberg.

Bikram's Yoga College of India sued three yoga studios in New York and Michigan for teaching Bikram-style yoga poses in hot, sweaty environs without Bikram's blessings. Bikram's poses are copyrighted as choreography in a book, the company's lawyer says.

Choreography and pantomimes are among artistic works that can be copyrighted, according to the law. In fact, copyright laws protect any original work of authorship that is "fixed" (such as in writing) in a tangible format (such as a book).

But the Copyright Office now says yoga poses do not qualify. Yoga poses "do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography," the office wrote in its decision, according to Bloomberg.

The targets of Bikram's yoga lawsuits agree. They also argue their style of hot yoga differs from Bikram's.

The Copyright Office decision doesn't end Bikram's yoga pose lawsuits, as Bikram is also claiming trademark infringement and a violation of teacher-certification agreements. The cases are set to be heard in federal court in Los Angeles.

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