Can you really own yoga?
As any seasoned yoga practitioner knows, there are many schools of yoga. From Ashtanga Vinyasa to Iyengar to Anusara, yogis all over the world practice in a myriad of ways. But with the rise in the popularity of yoga in America, intellectual property questions have inevitably surfaced. So who, really, owns yoga?
A school of yoga founded in the 1970s, Bikram yoga, has been the subject of the latest debate. Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga champion, opened his yoga studio near Hollywood, Calif. and began teaching a series of 26 postures that he claimed helped to restore his health after a weight-lifting accident. The poses are done in a room heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Choudhury says he was given a copyright for his Beginning Yoga class followed by books and audiotapes related to the practice. He has also pursued legal action against yoga studios that offered versions of hot yoga. Yoga to the People was one such studio. They along with Yen Yoga and New York-based Evolution Yoga are involved in the ongoing decision about whether yoga poses or a sequence of asanas can be counted as intellectual property or are part of the public domain. Choudhury has claimed that the same laws that protect choreography should apply to his series of poses, but the U.S. Copyright Office has declared this argument specious.
Although the office previously allowed some copyright registrations to go through the registration system (copyright registrations do not mean the copyright is valid), the Copyright Office appears to have recently reversed its policy of allowing registrations in the first instance.The Copyright Office in a letter stated that, although previous registrations have been allowed, the series of asanas “do[es] not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect as choreography.”
Others, of course have their opinions. Some argue that a copyright for yoga cannot be valid because “you can’t copyright a bench press or a squat.” Others are quick to point out that the poses in the Bikram series are based on the ancient practice of Hatha yoga, and are therefore not original materials. Even with the decision from the U.S. Copyright office, lawsuits against Yen Yoga and other studios continue.
What do you YOU think? Should people be able to copyright their own yoga asanas and sequences? Leave us a comment!