After years of litigation in multiple cases spanning more than a decade, the Bikram Yoga copyright controversy may finally be resolved. In an opinion rendered October 8, 2015, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bikram Choudhury’s 26-posture yoga sequence is not protectable under U.S. copyright law, and did so with an air of finality by unequivocally accepting appellee Evolation’s arguments that the Sequence falls into the category of unprotectable works under 17 U.S.C. §102(b).
Specifically, the Court framed Bikram’s claim as an attempt to “secure copyright protection for...a system designed to yield physical benefits and a sense of well-being” which is “precluded by copyright’s idea/expression dichotomy, codified by Section 102(b).” Similarly, Bikram’s arguments that compilations like the Sequence are entitled to protection as an entirely separate category of work ultimately wilted under the heat of the 9th Circuit’s analysis. Although 17 U.S.C. §102(a) does not list compilations as one of the categories of protected works, Bikram nonetheless argued that the law affords them protection as stand-alone works.
Responding to this assertion, the Court stated 17 U.S.C. §103 (the statutory provision authorizing protection for compilations) “complements” §102 and does not add another category of protectable works. Although compilations may be eligible for copyright protection, the Court said they “must nevertheless satisfy the requirements of Section 102,” which it determined the Sequence does not because it is an “idea, process, or system.”
Bikram’s argument that the Sequence was choreography met with a similar fiery fate. Citing a 1984 Copyright Office Compendium related to choreography, the Court noted the “dance movements” of a claimed work of choreography “must be more than mere exercises, such as ‘jumping jacks’ or walking steps,” and that “even if the Sequence could fit within some colloquial definitions of dance or choreography, it remains a process ineligible for copyright protection.”
Although Bikram’s well-known penchant for litigious behavior may yet take this controversy to the highest court in the land, for now Evolation and hot yoga studios across the country can bask in the euphoric, yoga-like afterglow of knowing that practicing yoga is not infringing behavior.