November 30, 2022

Volume XII, Number 334

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Exhale…Ninth Circuit Rules Sequence of Yoga Poses Not Copyrightable

In the previous post, we wrote about the copyright dispute between Bikram Choudhury and his Bikram yoga institution and a small yoga studio that began offering Bikram-style "hot yoga" classes that used the same sequence of 26 poses.  In the past, Mr. Choudhury had issued cease and desist letters to several yoga studios for copyright infringement, typically resulting in settlements that have prevented such studios from using the Bikram name or copying the Bikram Sequence of poses.  The defendant, Evolation Yoga, however, remained inflexible and refused to capitulate, prompting this heated dispuate. In 2012, a California district court dismissed the copyright claims and held that although books or photographs that depict a compilation of exercises may be copyrightable, the compilation authorship would not extend to the selection of the exercises themselves depicted in the photographs. 

After analyzing the bends and twists of the Copyright Act, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of copyright claims, refusing to place copyight law's idea-expression dichotomy on its head and achieve the legal enlightenment that Choudhury's attorneys urged.  (Bikram's Yoga College of India, L.P. v. Evolation Yoga, LLC, 2015 WL 5845415 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2015)).  The appeals court held that the Bikram Sequence was not copyrightable because it was an idea, process, or system designed to improve health, rather than an expression of an idea, and was otherwise ineligble for protection as a compilation of choregraphic work: "That the Sequence may produce spiritual and psychological benefits makes it no less an idea, system, or process and no more amenable to copyright protection."  The appeals court rejected Choudhury's argument that, in fashioning the sequence, he could have chosen from hundreds of postures, instead concluding that "the possibility of attaining a particular end through multiple different methods does not render the uncopyrightable a proper subject of copyright."  In a final pose, on December 7th, Choudhury filed a petition for an en banc rehearing before the full Ninth Circuit.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume V, Number 345
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About this Author

L. Robert Batterman, Labor, Management, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
Partner

A partner since 1974, Bob Batterman has considerable experience representing both individual employers and multi-employer groups in union relations and collective bargaining. Much of Bob’s time is spent in day-to-day contact with clients, often in “crisis” situations where a rapid resolution of union-related problems is vital.

Bob is a senior member of our nationally recognized Sports Law Group, serving as labor counsel to the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the National Football League. He has extensive experience in collective...

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Michael Cardozo, Commercial Litigation Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
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Michael A. Cardozo is a Partner in Proskauer’s Litigation Department and the former Corporation Counsel for the City of New York. As the city's 77th and longest serving Corporation Counsel, he was the city’s chief legal officer, headed the city's Law Department of more than 700 lawyers, and served from 2002 through 2013 as legal counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, elected officials, the city and its agencies.

Michael’s experience managing large litigations in both the private and public sectors provides him with unique insight into litigation assessments, risk management and...

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Robert L. Freeman, Technology, Media, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
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Robert E. Freeman is a Partner in the Corporate Department and a member of the Sports Law Group and Technology, Media & Communications Group.

Rob began his career as an intellectual property litigator before shifting the focus of his practice to intellectual property-related transactions. Today, he helps lead a team of media, sports and entertainment attorneys representing clients such as Time Warner Cable, Discovery Communications, the WTA, the Orlando Magic, Scripps Networks, Armstrong Cable, the PAC-12, Insight Communications and CBS Sports. Rob’s work for these clients...

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Howard Ganz, Sports, Employment Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
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Howard Ganz is co-head of the Sports Law Group and former co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department.

Howard represents and counsels clients with respect to a wide variety of labor and employment matters, such as employment discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, defamation, breach of contract, discipline, and large-scale reductions-in-force. His litigation experience has run the gamut, from single plaintiff lawsuits to major class actions, in federal and state courts in New York and elsewhere. The clients Howard has represented include the National...

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Wayne D. Katz, Finance, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm
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Wayne D. Katz is a Partner in the Corporate Department, specializing in the sports industry.

Wayne's experience includes the representation of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League in their various corporate matters, including team ownership transfers and team financings. Major transactions he has worked on for the leagues include the NBA’s purchase and sale of the New Orleans Hornets; the NBA's grant of expansion franchises to Toronto, Vancouver and Charlotte; the NHL's grant of expansion franchises to Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota; the NBA’s $...

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