Are you a fan of Bikram yoga? Well, though I’ve practiced yoga for much of my adult life, I have to admit that I could not quite get into Bikram. This is mainly because I have absolutely no tolerance for heat. Seriously 105⁰? I can barely manage when my home is heated to 85⁰ in winter!
As Catherine Clifford notes, however, Bikram has a group of fiercely committed followers. I can attest to this, because my best friend is one of them. Clifford describes Bikram as the X-games of yoga wherein devotees complete a 90 minute class that is based on a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises that Choudhury Bikram outlined in his 1979 book, ‘Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class’. Per Clifford, “Choudhury’s ownership of the series was brought before the court by two teachers…who started teaching a parallel hot yoga class without calling it Bikram yoga.”
As it turns out, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled in favor of these yoga teachers in their decision earlier this month. The court found that,
“…‘the Sequence is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health. Copyright protects only the expression of this idea—the words and pictures used to describe the Sequence—and not the idea of the Sequence itself…’” [Emphasis Added]. As such, Bikram yoga was ineligible from “‘for copyright protection as a ‘compilation’ or ‘choreographic work.’”
This ruling means that anyone can set up hot yoga enterprises and maybe even use the Bikram yoga sequences without paying Bikram franchise fees or paying to have instructors certified by them. This court decision is a major blow to Bikram yoga business model which is based on profits generated from franchises fees and teacher tuitions. The Yoga Alliance, however, celebrated the decision because it gives yoga instructors more freedom to express their art without fear of being sued.
Essentially, this case boils down to the limitations of copyright law. Check out our Cheat Sheet for a review of what can and cannot be copyrighted. This case also shows us how we need to be extremely knowledgeable about the laws that protect our core business asset. Bikram will most likely be alright because of its extensive appeal of its brand. How would you fare, however, if something similar were to happen to your business?