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Court Rules Bikram Can't Copyright Practice That Has Existed For Thousands of Years

Illustration for article titled Court Rules Bikram Cant Copyright Practice That Has Existed For Thousands of Years

On Thursday, a court ruled that the sequence of 26 poses and breathing exercises that makes up Bikram Yoga is ineligible for copyright for the same reason a life-saving surgery is: it’s designed to make people healthier, and only a monster would want a monopoly on saving lives.


The lawsuit was brought to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Bikram founder Bikram Choudhury who is, coincidentally, a bit of a monster (he has faced numerous sexual harassment lawsuits and is rumored to be a general asshole).

L.A. Times reports:

Choudhury’s sequence of poses “is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in the ruling. “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.


Separate from the health aspect of copyright law, Choudhury’s insistence that this particular sequence should be his intellectual property is generally ridiculous, given that yoga was around for thousands of years before the word “copyright” was even invented.

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What we identify as the practice of Yoga is actually quite new.

Though Yoga is first mentioned by name in some 2,500-year-old Hindu religious texts called the Upanishads, this is actually a term relating to a method of strapping horses together. It is actually the origin of the word Yoke. For the Upanishads yoga was used as a metaphor for a mental prayer technique and only mentioned one physical posture—which is to just sit in a comfortable way so as to make meditation comfortable.

In the 19th century, an Indian prince came up with something resembling what we now call Yoga. His manual was called the Sritattvanidhi and it listed 122 poses—mostly taken from Indian gymnastics. What really kicked the trend into overdrive was the influence of the Imperial British, as they were undergoing their own health craze at the time—and so this union of the too gave us what we now identify as Yoga.

Fast forward to B.K.S. Iyengar—the father of modern Yoga— when he comes up with the idea of combining these exercise techniques with some of the teachings described in old Hindu texts like the Yoga Sutras.