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

The battle over yoga in Encinitas schools continues this week

Oral arguments will be heard on Wednesday in the ongoing legal battle about the Sonima Foundation’s yoga instruction in Encinitas public schools.

A little update is available at this local newsite (local being Encinitas):

A three-judge panel with the California Court of Appeals will listen to oral arguments and rule on the appeal. The hearing is 9 a.m. on March 11 in Division One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, 750 B Street, Suite 300, San Diego.

Yoga was introduced in fall 2012 at five district schools. EUSD’s four remaining schools started yoga six months later. The program has been funded through grants from the Jois Foundation.

The case, which is believed to be the first challenge of a school yoga program on constitutional grounds, has attracted international attention.

I’m partial, though, to the update from the supporters of the program, YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students:

The yoga opponents are still at it.  More than two years after it began, the battle to keep yoga as part of the EUSD health and wellness program continues. The next stop is the California Court of Appeal.

On March 11, the Court will hear oral arguments in Sedlock v. Baird, the case EUSD and YES! won at the trial court in June 2013.  The parties have already submitted exhaustive legal briefs and the appellate justices will no doubt be ready to fire off questions.  YES! will be represented by Dave Peck of Coast Law Group, who litigated the case in the trial court.  M.C. Sungaila of Snell & Wilmer, who drafted our team’s brilliant brief, will also be on hand.  It promises to be a lively debate.

Although seating is limited, the public is welcome to attend.  The hearing is at 9 a.m. in Division One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, 750 B Street, Suite 300, San Diego.  Please note: no mobile phones or recording equipment are allowed in the courtroom, but may be checked in and held at security screening.

We’ll find out Wednesday if there are any bombshells.

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

Yes, there’s still a lawsuit about yoga in Encinitas schools

Lest you think that lawsuit against the Sonima Foundation-funded yoga program in Encinitas schools just disappeared with the first ruling in favor of yoga, think again.

As promised, the opponents last fall filed an appeal. And now the supporters have got some additional legal firepower as they work on their response, which is due in mid-August.

Here’s a link to the latest update from the coalition of students and supporters in Encinitas. And key parts:

We now find ourselves responding to the appeal filed by the yoga opponents. Our brief is due mid-August so there is plenty of work to be done in the coming months.

While we remain confident our victory will be upheld by the appellate court, the battle has only intensified. Dean Broyles, the Sedlocks’ attorney, continues to solicit donations and spread his anti-yoga conspiracy theories at every opportunity. His original appellate brief, at a whopping 63 pages, was so bloated that the court refused to accept it without significant edits.

In addition to your ongoing support, YES! has been fortunate to receive several offers of assistance from legal professionals. After careful evaluation, we have elected to team up with appellate superstar M.C. Sungaila whose track record of success speaks for itself. Coast Law Group and Snell & Wilmer, Ms. Sungaila’s firm, will continue to represent YES! on a pro bono basis.

We didn’t make a huge deal of the appeal from the National Center for Law and Policy, at the time (nor did other media, to the best of our knowledge) because filing an appeal isn’t that big a thing. Having a deadline to respond, as supporters now do, seems more of interest.

We’ll keep our eyes on it, of course.

Posted by Steve

YogaGlo explains its video patent, wants to move forward now

We’ve been watching the story unfold around YogaGlo’s decision to patent the particular (or not so particular) way it films its online yoga classes. It got the patent earlier this month, although it seems that the general consensus is: What?

Well, YogaGlo has now responded to all the criticism:

As you may have heard, YogaGlo recently received a patent for one very specific way to create yoga class videos for online streaming. Although we issued a statement containing the facts about this patent a few months ago, many yoga organizations, publications, blogs, teachers and students continue to share false and misleading information about what it all means. The misplaced disdain that has been directed toward us, our teachers, and parts of the yoga community is extremely unfortunate and has created fear within the yoga community.

I’m going to break in here for a second. I think there’s been less fear than disbelief or outrage. But that’s me. On with the show:

The patent covers only one of many ways an online yoga-related company or individual teacher might create a class for online streaming. In fact, several elements need to be present in the same video for a class to be in conflict with our patent. Meaning, for the overwhelming majority of you, the patent will be completely irrelevant.  Only a handful of companies in some of their classes have copied all of the critical elements in our patent.

The critical elements of the patent include:

  • a line of sight corridor between the rear area of a class and the instructor in the front of the class;
  • an image capturing device located in the rear area with an unobstructed view of the instructor, to provide a participatory view through the line of sight corridor;
  • students in a class, facing the instructor, distributed across the classroom between the instructor position and the image capturing device wherein the students do not block the corridor.

Again, all of these elements must be present in the same video for our patent to be relevant.

The post then showcases what YogaGlo video classes look like versus all the other options under the sun. And it hones in on all the false statements YogaGlo folks think have been out there. And it moves through a whole section titled “Spreading the Fear” before finishing with a section “Moving Forward.”

Not sure this will be enough to get to that point. But it is the holidays, so who knows?

Posted by Steve

Here’s a hot twist to the Encinitas schools yoga lawsuit case

Thursday was a routine hearing in the Encinitas schools yoga lawsuit. Until… “the judge assigned to the case revealed that he practices yoga himself. ‘Does anybody have a problem with that?’ San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer asked.”

That’s according to the U-T San Diego. Its story continues:

Dean Broyles, who is representing parents suing the Encinitas Union School District in a lawsuit that has gained international attention, said he was fine with Meyer presiding over the case if the judge can keep an open mind about the plaintiff’s argument regarding spiritual connections to yoga.

The hearing did actually touch on the main subject at hand: whether yoga is inherently religious. From the story:

Meyer, who said he began doing Bikram yoga about a month and a half ago, likened the activity to simple stretching exercises.

“If you think there’s something spiritual about what I do, that’s news to me,” he said.


On Thursday, Broyles said the Ashtanga yoga taught in the district is one of the more spiritual versions of yoga. Meyer said he was unfamiliar with it and had not heard of other yoga terms Broyles asked about.

“Have you been taught the sun salutation?” Broyles asked, referring to a series of poses in yoga.

“The what?” Meyer responded.

“Have you done the lotus position?” Broyles asked.

“What’s that?” the judge replied.

Ah, thank God for Bikram.

Broyles maintains that the judge will be convinced by the testimony of Cathy Gunther Brown, the religious studies professor who had a statement in the lawsuit. She’s on sabbatical, so a hearing won’t happen until May 20. And even then, if she is still unavailable, it might be delayed longer.

The other notable action from the hearing was that the Coast Law Group, which had offered its services free for the pro-yoga parents of students, will be allowed to be part of the case. It will work with the school district’s attorney, who also is doing the work pro bono.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas superintendent: ‘You would feel like you’re going into a gym’

There is zero religious instruction going on as part of the Jois Yoga-funded exercise program, Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird is reiterating following the lawsuit filed this week seeking the program’s end.

“If you were to walk in there, you would feel like you’re going into a gym,” Baird told ABC News, in what looks like his most extensive comments in the past day. “The students come in, do some warm ups, do the typical stretching and movement. There’s absolutely no religious instruction that goes on, whatsoever.

“I believe what he is saying is just the motions of the yoga stretching is somehow invoking Hinduism — and in America, where 90 to 95 percent of the practitioners are not even Hindu,” Baird said.

The “he” Baird refers to is Dean Broyles, the attorney with the National Center for Law & Policy, which filed the suit.

In his comments to ABC News, Baird makes the strongest point yet that I’ve seen in defense of the program: The district, which now is offering the yoga program to all 5,500 of its students (except those who have opted out), isn’t running Ashtanga classes. Those are too hard for kindergarten through sixth-graders.

True that! But I suppose that’s not an argument everyone would “get.”

“We are probably using some of the poses found in Ashtanga yoga,” Baird said. “But we have modified this extensively to be done by students of this particular age. And all body types can be successful [with] what we are doing in our classes.”

Where can I sign up? This might be just the yoga I’ve been looking for: Ashtanga light. Light on the postures, light on the religion.

Baird also says the district will continue offering the classes.

What Baird describes gibes with what I’ve heard from people today: the Encinitas yoga program really is about as close to stretching and calisthenics as one could image. It may come down to the packaging. If there wasn’t the Ashtanga label, perhaps there wouldn’t be an issue. Or such a big issue.

OK, probably there’d still be an issue.

Posted by Steve