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

Paddleboard yoga takes next logical step: onto land

This is one of those yoga marketing items that drive me crazy, but at the same time I know enough to know that … there’s something to it.

For about 15 years, a company called Indo Board has been making balance aids designed very specifically for surfers, first, and then for snowboarders, wakeboarders, etc.

I had one, way back when. (I think my nephew ended up with it.)

Essentially, you have a fairly short — longer and wider than a typical skateboard, but not by a lot — board and a roller; put them together and you have a balance challenge. Or surfing and snowboarding in your living room.

See where this is going, right? (OK, the headline gives it away.)

The Indo Board folks have now come out with a much longer version designed to bring paddleboard yoga to dry land.

Hmmm… here’s what they say about it:

“The Indo Yoga Board simulates unstable yoga on a Stand Up Paddle (SUP) board. The Natural deck features an all wood board with our new Indo Board Yoga logo on a smooth surface. (Includes Indo Board Yoga Deck and 3x IndoFLO Cushions)”

It ain’t cheap: $375. So you have to really love your paddleboard yoga. I don’t. But I did like my Indo Board back in the day.

After lulling you in with that piece, I have a far more serious story to link you to: An Australian Ashtanga teacher — although not one authorized or certified as far as I can tell — is on the wrong end of a lawsuit, filed by a student who says an adjustment injured her severely.

It’s got to be among the biggest nightmares for yoga teachers, right? I don’t know any of the details beyond this piece from The Australian, and so can’t comment beyond saying I pass it on because it’s a rare mainstream news piece that mentions Ashtanga specifically and as a reminder of the at times perilous path yoga instructors walk. Here’s a few bits (WordPress is acting up, so no “blockquote” — apologies. The paper’s account ends after it quotes the website):

“A former yoga student is suing her instructor after sustaining serious injuries while in a posture, known as the supta kurmasana.

“The 42-year-old mother was in the contortionist pose in a class in Cottesloe three years ago when instructor Marc Potter “performed an adjustment”, which allegedly caused significant spinal damage requiring surgery.

“The woman, who asked not to be named, this week launched a civil lawsuit against Mr Potter, of Trigg, claiming damages, costs and interest.

“The District Court writ claims personal injuries and loss suffered by the woman were “caused or materially contributed to by the negligence and/or breach of contract of the defendant and/or trespass to the person by the defendant in the provision of instruction and adjustment while the plaintiff was attempting the yoga pose”.

“Mr Potter, the founder of Claremont business Sun Salute Yoga, declined to comment on advice from his lawyer.

“”All I can say is this is in the hands of insurers,” he said.

“His website says he is well-known throughout Australia by fellow “yogis” and surfers for his genuine and authentic approach to teaching yoga. “Fondly known by his students and friends as Potts, he has helpe thousands of people through the healing journey of Ashtanga Yoga,” it said.”

I think I’ve seen him in videos when I’ve been searching for our Friday asana aids… but other than that, I don’t know anything about Potter.

Posted by Steve

Here is Yoga to the People’s answer to Bikram

I will let you decide if this is an historic moment for yoga.

Greg Gumucio, via the Daily News

Greg Gumucio of Yoga to the People a few minutes ago filed his answer to the lawsuit brought against him by Bikram.

What it seems to come down to is the difference between a copyright and a patent.

“Bikram does not have a patent on his method,” Gumucio writes here. “Bikram may have a valid copyright on his 1978 book and on the rigid Dialogue that his instructors must recite in his classes. But, again, those copyrights are irrelevant because we do not use the book, and our instructors never recite any of the expressive passages in the Dialogue.”

Here’s a link to the actual answer filed in court in California.

Gumucio’s statement addresses two arguments to “Bikram’s claim that, even without a patent, he has the exclusive right to offer yoga classes that include the 26 poses in a heated room.”

The first is Bikram’s claim to a copyright on the series. Here’s where things get good and, maybe, move toward the “historic” nature Gumucio has been promising. At the least, it is serious food for thought concerning yoga and yoga as a business. At the risk of over-quoting him:

Copyright protection is limited to “original works of authorship” — novels, plays, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, and so forth. The Copyright statute expressly excludes protection for “procedures,” “systems” and “methods of operation.”So, for example, games, sports, and recipes cannot be copyrighted. Yoga in general (and Bikram’s yoga in particular) is plainly a “system” or “procedure,” like a recipe or a sport, not an art form. Bikram himself has long argued that the primary function of his method is to promote health. Recently, he has even lobbied for recognition of yoga as an Olympic sport.

The only conceivable way to avoid this conclusion would be to claim that yoga is a form of choreography — which, like a play, is subject to copyright protection. But this argument quickly collapses. Yoga does not fit any of the standard definitions of choreography, such as “the art of dancing” (Oxford English Dictionary) or “the composition and arrangement of dance movements and patterns usually intended to be accompanied by music.” Bikram should know this, because in 2002 he applied to the Copyright Office for registration of his sequence of poses as a “performing art.” In the letter in which the Office rejected that application, the office told him, “we do not register such claims as choreography.”

Gumucio also quarrels with claims that by graduating from a Bikram course he agreed to any restrictions on his teaching of the poses. He even goes so far as to argue: “Not only does this document [his certificate] not limit my rights to provide instruction in the sequence of poses, it does the reverse — expressly granting me the right to “teach” the “system” without any reservations whatsoever.”

He does acknowledge that Bikram likely has the right to maintain control over the term “Bikram” and the specific class structure as it is taught.

Gumucio’s statement ends by being very complementary of Bikram and says that Bikram does deserve the “material rewards” for his work.

“Bikram is flourishing,” the statement concludes. “His network of franchised studios is growing. I have no interest in undermining his business or thwarting his vision. I only ask that he respect mine.”

A link to Bikram’s lawsuit is here.

Posted by Steve

Something about to break on the Bikram-Yoga to the People lawsuit?

Is something about to break on the Yoga to the People versus Bikram lawsuit? This from an hour ago on the YTTP Facebook page:

Yoga To The People
You will often hear people say, “we have won the battle, but we have not won the war!”
I say to you today, the war has now been won. All that is left is the battle. Let me encourage you to celebrate without knowing exactly why. I am rejoicing inside.
greg – yttp
details to follow soon…

We’ll see. It’s hard to imagine what else he could be referring to, right?

Posted by Steve