In Bikram’s Yoga College of India, L.P. v. Evolation Yoga, LLC, NO. 13-55763 (9th Cir. 2015), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Bikram Yoga Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright protection. The Court premised its decision on the fact that copyright protection is limited to the expression of ideas, and does not extend to the ideas themselves. (Available Here).
The Bikram Yoga Sequence consists of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises which were described in Bikram Choudhury’s 1979 book. The book was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1979. In 2002, Choudhury registered the compilation of exercises. In 2009, two of Choudhury’s students founded Evolation Yoga, which includes a hot yoga class. In 2011, Bikram sued Evolation alleging that Defendants infringed Bikram’s copyrighted works. The district court granted Evolation’s partial grant of summary judgment as to the claim of copyright infringement of the “sequence,” ruling that the sequence is a collection of facts and ideas that is not entitled to copyright protection.
The Court found that the sequence is an unprotectable idea. Choudhury attempted to secure copyright protection for a healing art: a system designed to yield physical benefits and a sense of well-being. This attempt is precluded by copyright’s idea/expression dichotomy, codified by Section 102(b) . Monopoly protection for such a method can only be secured, if it can be secured at all, by letters-patent. The court relied on precedent such as Palmer v. Braun, 287 F.3d 1325 (11th Cir. 2002), where the 11th Circuit held that mediation exercises described in a copyrighted manual on exploring the consciousness were a process unentitled to copyright protection, and Baker v. Seldon, 101 U.S. 99 (1879), where the Supreme Court held the book’s expression of the book-keeping system was protected, but the system of book-keeping itself was not entitled to copyright protection. The Court found the object of the Choudhury’s book is to explain to readers how to perform the sequence and encouraging the practice. The object of the book would be frustrated if the knowledge could not be used without incurring the guilt of piracy of the book.
The Court also found that the sequence is not a copyrightable compilation, despite Choudhury’s contention that his selection, coordination and arrangement of the twenty-six poses and two breathing exercises made it protectable. Compilations are eligible for copyright but facts and ideas are not. Combining the ideas or processes does not make them eligible for copyright protection. The Court likewise found that the sequence was not a copyrightable choreographic work, because it is an idea, process or system to which copyright protection may in no case extend under 17 U.S.C. § 102(b).