In the June edition of Three Point Shot, 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.