Here’s someone who thinks Bikram should have won his copyright lawsuit

Here’s a counter to what seems the prevailing idea that the Bikram sequence of yoga poses should not be able to be copyrighted:

Yet the emphasis on the science of yoga doesn’t demonstrate that Bikram yoga isn’t also a highly specific form of coordinated bodily motions arranged in a particular way to produce an aesthetic reaction — in other words, choreography.

Congress specifically gave copyright protection to choreography in 1976, without defining the term. (Apparently, you know it when you see it.) Remarkably, the 9th Circuit thought that it could deny choreography protection to the Bikram sequence without defining the term itself. The court said that the Bikram sequence can’t be copyrighted because “it is an idea, process, or system,” and those are legally unprotectable — even if they are also choreography.

This can’t be right. Consider the ballets of George Balanchine, whose copyrights are carefully guarded by the George Balanchine Trust. Each and every one of those ballets unquestionably incorporates an idea, or rather many ideas: of modernism, of classicism, of the relationship of movement to music, and so on.

What’s more, many people do ballet as a form of exercise and as an aesthetic-spiritual meditative experience, just as they do yoga.

I think that’s the crux of the argument from this BloombergView piece. Something about the choreography = yoga (really, asanas) doesn’t quite pass muster for me. Perhaps I don’t quite agree that an established dance move is the same thing as a particular asana. But I get why someone would want to argue that.

Maybe Bikram will appeal higher.

Posted by Steve

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Bikram on wrong end of major court ruling

A three-person panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against Bikram Choudhury in a case involving his attempt to copyright his yoga sequence.

The news is out there at various outlets. Here’s Time:

Bikram Choudhury, the self-styled creator of Bikram yoga, has for years threatened to sue practitioners that he feels are copying his signature yoga poses. However, a court ruled on Thursday that he has no legal right to do so.

[snip]

Choudhury’s most recent legal case involved Evolation Yoga, a Florida-based studio that the magnate accused of copyright violations.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now disagreed with him after he appealed a district judge’s ruling in favor of Evolation. The judges clearly stated that his sequence cannot be protected by copyright law, the Times reports.

“Copyright protects only the expression of this idea — the words and pictures used to describe the sequence — and not the idea of the sequence itself,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, one of the judges on the panel, wrote.

Radio coverage I heard here in Los Angeles of the ruling — Bikram’s based here — reported that the judges also determined yoga is meant to improve people’s health and well-being and that copyrighting such a thing would be akin to giving a doctor exclusive rights to using a certain medical procedure.

He could appeal up… but I’m not sure given the substance of the ruling that he has a good chance. But you never know.

Posted by Steve

Bikram responds to assault allegations

Bikram Choudhury has responded publicly to the allegations of rape and sexual assault from six of his students.

Here’s a link to the CNN report (which is of course a video). It’s an exclusive, and the first time he has talked about it.

The Daily Mail gives you the summary:

Speaking out for the first time since six women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of unwanted sexual advances, 69-year-old Bikram Choudhury strongly denied the accusations.

‘I never assaulted them,’ he said as he spoke to CNN. ‘The answer is I feel sorry for them… They’re entranced by somebody – lawyers.’

[snip]

Choudhury told CNN that his success means he would never need to assault anyone.

‘Women likes me. Women loves me,’ he said. ‘So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.’

When asked how his wife of more than 30 years, fellow yoga instructor Rajashree Choudhury, had responded to the accusations, Choudhury became emotional.

‘My wife never look at me anymore,’ he said.

‘Twenty-four hours a day, I work harder than any human being in this Earth… and this is my reward? I’m a rapist? Shame [on] your Western culture.’

No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s post.

Posted by Steve

The focus again lands on Bikram

We’ve touched on Bikram Choudhury’s troubles a few times — and it seems this story may be nearing its denouement.

Bikram, you probably know, faces several rape charges, including a new one filed this month. There is now an August court date — soon enough that the New York Times just posted a story suggesting that “cracks show” in his empire:

But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said she was raped by Mr. Choudhury during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

This month, a Los Angeles judge cleared away several challenges to a lawsuit from a former student who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during another 2010 teacher-training.

A statement issued by lawyers for Mr. Choudhury and his yoga college, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said that “Mr. Choudhury did not sexually assault any of the plaintiffs” and that the women were “unjustly” exploiting the legal system for financial gain.

“Their claims are false and dishonor Bikram yoga and the health and spiritual benefits it has brought to the lives of millions of practitioners throughout the world,” the statement said. “After a thorough investigation, the Los Angeles County district attorney declined to file any sexual assault charges against Mr. Choudhury or the college for lack of evidence.”

An August trial date has been set in Ms. Baughn’s case. In her complaint, she said that Mr. Choudhury pursued her starting with a teacher-training she attended in 2005, when she was 20. She said he whispered sexual advances during classes, and assaulted and groped her in a hotel room and at his home.

I suppose there’s the possibility it will get settled before the trial — but if it goes to trial, I’d guess the details will be pretty salacious and get a ton of media attention.

Posted by Steve

A bright idea: A shala library

The folks at Brighton Ashtanga Shala have come up with a bright (ahem, get it?) idea: A shala library. Here’s how they describe it:

We have started a small yoga library in the shala for current students. If you would like to borrow a book then please read the notice above the book case about what to do. Book donations are also welcome if you have anything you would like to share. Happy reading!

According to the website, Jess Davies and Laura Cornish are both Level 1 Authorized teachers. And when it says, “Brighton,” it means just that. Brighton, U.K. Not in NY.

This seems like an idea that would work at any number of shalas. It also is sort of quaint in our Internet age. And imagine the traffic one could drive if you advertised, “We’ve opened our library and have found a copy of the Yoga Korunta.” The trick? Always have it be checked out. Maybe by ants.

There are a few other things to point you to, as well.

David Garrigues has a blog post and video up on the slightly less elusive than Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha. Link here and video:

 

You should check out Tim Miller’s latest blog post. It’s about a universal high-surf advisory (which I think also means that Tim’s gotten back into the water for some body surfing, but that’s just my guess).

And two in the mainstream press yoga stories (which I pass on so you won’t be blindsided by your non-yoga practicing friends who hear/read them). The first: According to the USA Today, Lululemon is denying its making people “prove” their pants are too sheer by bending over for an inspection. The second: The NY Times covers the Bikram misconduct lawsuit. (It might be worth clicking on just to see the “giant” Bikram yoga class from 2003.)

Posted by Steve

A few controversies that (mostly) don’t have anything to do with Ashtanga

Given we’ve followed the Bikram lawsuit story — because of the question around copyrighting of a yoga sequence — it seems only fair to note that ABC’s Nightline program ran a piece on the issue and another lawsuit against the guru behind the hottest yoga craze.

Can’t get the video to embed, but here’s a link. A highlight, I think, is video from a deposition by Bikram that comes fairly late in the piece. And here’s a link to the online story. A few excerpts:

To his hard-bodied disciples, Bikram Choudhury is a yoga rock star.

Bikram, who, like Madonna, tends to go by one name only, developed the original “hot yoga,” a rigorous sequence of 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to a stifling 105 degrees.

[snip]

Bikram insists his form of yoga doesn’t just improve the body and invigorate people’s sex lives but that it also saves lives.

“I can make you live 100 years,” he said. “Say you have a bad knee, you want to fix your knee, come to my class… Do the same 26 postures with a woman who has a uterus problem. Same 26 poses, the uterus will be taken care of. Your knee will be taken care of.

“I’ve cured patients who have absolutely no hope, 98 percent of heart was clogged, they don’t even want surgery,” Bikram continued. “Send him to me and eight months later I send him back, brand new heart like a panther heart.”

The piece really picks up when it focuses on a different lawsuit from the one involving Yoga to the People and Bikram’s trademarking (it involves the deposition I mentioned above). Here are some of those details:

In 2010, Pandhora Williams spent about $11,000 to attend Bikram’s intensive teacher training course in San Diego. She claims she was offended by portions of what she said Bikram said in his “dialogue,” the banter that helps distract students through 90 minutes of body-bending poses. She claims that during class, Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals, saying, “Women are bitches and whores. They’re here for one thing, and that’s to make babies.”

After completing seven weeks of the nine-week course, Pandhora said she confronted Bikram.

“I walked up to him, and I said ‘Bikram, You’re breaking my heart.’ That’s what I said to him. ‘Why are you preaching hate when there’s already so much hatred in the world?'” said Williams, who claimed his response to her was, “‘We don’t sell love here, you f**king black bitch. Get out.'”

Bikram declined “Nightline” requests to talk about the case, but ABC News obtained video and transcripts of his deposition in which Bikram denied making hateful comments and claimed Williams approached him in a way that made him feel threatened for his health and safety.

“I’m the most successful man in the world,” he said. “It will keep going like this way as long as I live. If some sick crazy person think what I am it’s their problem. It’s not my problem. I’ll still continue keep doing it.”

Williams is now suing Bikram for unspecified damages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Another controversy happening now kind of, sort of, involves two of the Confluence teachers. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve already heard about it, but here it is on “our record”: This weekend’s Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco, where Richard Freeman and David Swenson are teaching (and MC Yogi is doing his thing), is under fire for taking place in a hotel where workers are picketing. Here is a bit from the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

[J]ury’s out in this particular case: this weekend, the Yoga Journal Conference will cross a hotel workers’ union picket line for the third year in a row at the Hyatt Regency.

“Yoga Journal has ignored years of outreach from hotel workers and their union and chooses to hide behind logistical concerns in a matter of right and wrong,” says Julia Wong of UNITE HERE Local 2, whose union called for a worldwide boycott last year in light of unfair treatment of its workers. Supporters of the boycott include the NFL Players Association.

So what’s up with the yogis? “For years I’ve looked into moving the conference,” says conference director Elana Maggal. But, she told the Guardian in an email, the only other hotel that’s large enough to accomodate [sic] the 2,000 flexibles forecasted to attend the event — the Marriott — was unable at the times Yoga Journal needed. “So [the choices were] either not have an SF conference or hold it at the Hyatt,” says Maggal. “We’ve chosen the latter, fully aware that it is not a perfect choice, but hopeful that both sides will finalize the remaining issues quickly and fairly.”

I’ve seen some Facebook chatter about whether the conference should be held there and Yoga Dork has a discussion going. (While grabbing that link, I see she’s also got up the Bikram stuff. Great minds think alike?) My guess is this story, which seems on the surface to be fairly cut and dry, might be a bit more convoluted; perhaps not. That Yoga Journal is the entity behind it probably encourages people who have opinions for or against that publication to speak up more loudly than they might otherwise.

I don’t know what the workers’ issues are or whether not having a big yoga conference there would help their plight. But these are the stories of the day in our shared Maya existence.

Posted by Steve

Bikram, Yoga to the People settle copyright lawsuit

This story goes back a ways, but because it is one we covered, I want to put the final bow on it.

Bikram Choudhury and Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People, once Bikram’s right-hand man, have settled their lawsuits involving whether Gumucio was infringing on Bikram’s copyright for his yoga poses.

ABC News had the details from last week (and seems to be the only place that does, perhaps because it is doing a segment on the issue sometime soon). As part of the deal, Gumucio will stop teaching the 26-asana sequence that we commonly think of as Bikram Yoga (and which Bikram believes he owns). Our coverage of this can be found here.

This story had some wider meaning beyond the Bikram and even yoga world because of the copyright issues involved. For yoga, and Ashtanga in particular, the issue is pretty clearly: What happens if one teacher or particular “school” tries to copyright a series of asanas? As a result of these lawsuits, the U.S. Copyright Office did alter a long-standing position that while a dance sequence or other choreography could be copyrighted, the same likely doesn’t hold true for something similar that claims to have medical benefits.

And, as ABC notes, with Bikram saying “half a billion people” have benefited from his yoga — talk about yoga to the people, huh? — he clearly touts the health benefits a lot.

My non-expert guess from this is that future yogis seeking to copyright their particular asana sequences will have a tough time. But because the two sides settled, that issue has not been explicitly addressed yet. So… maybe more to come?

Update, Dec. 10: Link to Gumucio’s explanation for the end to the suit: Right here. New York Times coverage here.

Posted by Steve