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Court Says Bikram Founder Doesn't Own Yoga Poses

He was trying to copyright a sequence of ancient ones
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2015 1:45 PM CDT
Court Says Bikram Founder Can't Tell You How To Do Yoga
Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, leads class at the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2003. On Thursday, a judge ruled he can't copyright his sequence of 26 yoga poses.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon,File)

(Newser) – It turns out, you can't legally stop people from performing ancient yoga poses in a particular order. On Thursday, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, who was attempting to copyright his sequence of 26 yoga poses, NBC News reports. According to the Los Angeles Times, Choudhury—who didn't invent the poses, which are thousands of years old—claimed he alone had the right to decide who could teach them in the order he first published in 1979. Choudhury has threatened multiple lawsuits against yoga studios in the ensuing years, often with the studios caving or settling out of court. But one Florida studio fought back.

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Thursday's ruling was in support of Evolation Yoga's right to teach the 26 poses in any order they like, including Choudhury's sequence, NBC reports. The court compared it to a cookbook—in that the cookbook itself can be copyrighted but not the recipes inside of it—and also to surgery. “The copyright for a book describing how to perform a complicated surgery does not give the holder the exclusive right to perform the surgery,” the Times quotes from the judge's decision. Evolation's lawyer called the ruling “a very big victory for yoga studios and practitioners everywhere.” Choudhury was instrumental in yoga taking off in the US in the '70s, but he's been a controversial figure. In addition to his copyright claims, he's been sued multiple times for sexual harassment. (Read more Bikram Choudhury stories.)

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