Database to foil yoga copythieves to launch

A open Indian database of all yoga postures will go live soon. It's intended to serve as a reference for patent and copyright offices around the world who are petitioned by the likes of Bikram Choudhury with patent and copyright applications for individual postures and sequences of postures. The Times of India article is somewhat confusing in that it mixes patent and copyright freely. I haven't heard of patents being granted on yoga postures, but there have been many stories about the controversial practice of copyright offices allowing registration of choreography copyrights for sequences of postures:
In order to stop self-styled yoga gurus from claiming copyright to ancient `asanas', like Bikram Choudhury's Hot Yoga -- a set of 26 sequences practised in a heated room -- India has completed documenting 1,300 'asanas' which will soon be uploaded on the country's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), making them public knowledge.

Around 250 of these `asanas' have also been made into video clips with an expert performing them.

According to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR) and Union health ministry's department of Ayush, "once the database is up online, patent offices across the world will have a reference point to check on everytime a yoga guru claims patent on a particluar `asana'."

CSIR's Dr V P Gupta, who created TKDL, told TOI, "All the 26 sequences which are part of Hot Yoga have been mentioned in Indian yoga books written thousands of years ago."

He added, "However, we will not legally challenge Choudhury. By putting the information in the public domain, TKDL will be a one-stop reference point for patent offices across the world. Every time, somebody applies for a patent on yoga, the office can check which ancient Indian book first mentioned it and cancel the application."

India pulls the plug on yoga as business (Thanks, Msikk, via Submitterator!)

(Image: Bikram Yoga - with Bikram Choudhury, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tiarescott's photostream)


  1. Patent offices don’t check a darned thing. They just grant everything and hope the courts will sort it out later.

    1. That may be so in some place, over here in Gemany patent offices actually employ engineers and scientists which evaluate the product to check if there is prior art (a faulty process, though) and if the necessary threshold of originality has been surpassed.

      That’s why “numbers of patents in a given country” is such a bad indicator.

      1. More Patent Offices that would simply read the thing then go, ‘No, fuck off’ would be a good thing, yes.

  2. Why does it not surprise me that Bikram Choudhury tried to copyright asanas? This is the man who has now brought the world a yoga competition. Yes. Yoga. Competition. *sigh*

    1. I’d watch it only if the platform they practiced in was octagonal and they had hot ring girls.

      Given all the nonsense that happens in martial arts circles with lineage and spurious claims to ancient authenticity, I like their honest approach in puncturing the self-importance of individual practitioners.

  3. This is not going to work.

    Bikram never patented an asana/posture. He copyrighted a series of postures. To say that he shouldn’t have been allowed to do that under copyright law because these postures are old would be like saying musical compositions can’t be copyrighted because the notes are old.

    Whoever tries to patent a yoga asana is wasting a lot of money for one reason: how will that patent be enforced? Will the patent owner send out private investigators to all yoga classes throughout the US just to catch a yoga teacher telling people to do that pose? Good luck…

    1. Their legal team has collected a formidable array of weapons to protect their rights in the West;

      The Relaxed Individual Asana Association,
      the Digit Manipulation Compliance Act,
      public information ads such as Don’t Copy That Flop,
      with a revenue stream from the Asana Collection And Payment group.

      It’s a stretch.â„¢

    2. But copyright is limited in a way that patent is not–the plaintiff has to show (or at least show a strong likelihood) that the defendant copied *the plaintiff’s* work–not some other source. That means that if someone gets sued by a yoga troll, they can simply point out they weren’t copying from the troll, but that they were using a traditional posture. They can also defend on the idea that they came up with it independently or that the pose wasn’t protectable, but pointing to the existing database is more certain and easier to prove.

      Oh, and Woolly Mittens–even if the examiners don’t get around to it, it’s valuable once you *do* get sued. In the US, at least, and I assume elsewhere, you can defend against a patent infringement suit by showing that the patent should never have been granted in the first place.

      1. Unfortunately if the patent office isn’t on the ball in denying the claims in the first place, someone has to incur the cost of mounting that defense just so they can be forced to fulfill a responsibility to their society that their patent office felt was not their problem.

        It is still good that this database makes the defense cheaper and more straightforward for those people, though.

    3. Copyrighting a series of postures that he got from the public domain is as rediculous as Disney pressing for copyright extensions after looting the Brothers Grimm stories themselves.

    4. The database also includes sequences that duplicate those that Bikram has registered as copyrighted choreography, but which predate Bikram’s registration by centuries.

      1. Ah, but he’s doing them in a hot room. It’s special sauce!

        I think I’ll patent the same thing, only I’ll measure the temperature in fahrenheit instead of centigrade. I don’t know about India, but I’m pretty sure that will sail right through the lobotomized monkeys that staff the US patent examiner’s office!

    5. Look, yoga isn’t music. I could get on the floor right now and come up with a yoga sequence that is “original.” Doesn’t mean I could or should copyright it. It’s just effing yoga.

  4. Incidentally, Bikram’s wikipedia page is of incredibly low quality, combining pro-Bikram unsourced gibberish with anti-Bikram unsourced alleged quotations of his.

    Some of the people here seem to know something about him, so perhaps you could improve a line here or there. I myself hadn’t heard of him before this patenting business, so I have little to contribute.

  5. I used to study Mime and I’m working to copywright / patent gestures. My first submission is for “giving the finger.”

  6. when both the poses and the sequences are copied (as he has done) then it’s like be claiming copyright on Mozart merely because I’ve changed the intonation (my own hot room) or arranged for a new instrument.
    Pretty sure they are confident that very little is new under the Yoga sun.

  7. Just wait until my copyright on the hand-yoga position “flipping bird” comes through. I’m gonna be frakin’ rich!

  8. Bridge troll mentality: This is my bridge! Give me rent! Can’t pass through it! It’s MINE!

    Doesn’t matter that they didn’t build it and that they don’t maintain it. They magically appear underneath and try scaring everyone in paying a toll.

    The best thing to do with bridge trolls is squish them, not play their games. Asanas do not belong to anyone. Taking bridge trolls seriously is playing their game. This is how we ended up as a society ruled by bridge trolls.

    Let’s all laugh instead, and kick them out in the open, in the sun, and see how ugly evil and weak they are, and go on our ways creating bridges. And breathing easier.

  9. As a patent/copyright issue, it’s offensive. As a yogic issue, asanas are least important part of yoga. If someone tries to patent breathing, we’re in trouble.

  10. Isn’t it odd that people who create databases of prior art should be characterised as “pulling the plug on business” when actually it’s the parties who are aggressively “protecting their intellectual property” who want to prevent others from doing business?

  11. I highly recommend the documentary Yoga Inc. It goes a lot more in depth into the yoga business, and why it shouldn’t be one.

  12. Hmmm. I wasn’t aware that one could copyright a series of movements. Is the jitterbug copyrighted? The waltz? The hokey-pokey (done silently of course)? Jumping jacks, push ups…. Mr. Bikrum’s technique and business model seem eligible for Trademark protection– as in not just anybody can teach a high heat yoga class and call it Bikrum Yoga, or try to piggy back on his name and logo. His yoga DVD’s, books, CDs– all copyrightable. But the asanas? Assinine.

  13. Cory,

    I think you looked more closely at Bikram Choudhury’s copyright claims, you would see it is an appropriate use of intellectual property law. Choudhury has not copyrighted an asana, or a subset of asanas, but all 26 asanas plus two breathing exercises, in a specific order, with verbal instructions. (The heat is not part of the claim.) Other yoga schools can teach the same 26 posture, but the arrangement must be significantly different than Choudhury’s beginning yoga series. They can switch asanas around, add some and take out others, invent new ones, whatever. But what they may not do is teach Bikram’s exact course with the serial numbers filed off.

    Bikram has successfully defended his copyright against suits based on the arguments above, and his claim has been upheld in court. I think anyone would agree that with 1500 traditional asanas to choose from, it would be a pretty big coincidence to come up with the same 26, in the same order, without copying someone else’s work. Don’t you?

    1. …with 1500 traditional asanas to choose from, it would be a pretty big coincidence to come up with the same 26, in the same order, without copying someone else’s work. Don’t you?

      Except that, in reality, there are maybe 100 traditional asana that anyone has ever heard of and that can be practiced by anything resembling normal human beings.

      He’s an abomination.

    2. And if every yoga teacher had had the temerity to copyright their routine, would all yoga teachers then have to review their class to make sure they didn’t violate some copyright troll’s magic class order?

  14. This is great news for Shane Dundas! He’ll need something like this since NICK decided not to renew “The Upsidedown Show”

    Nose Pose, I Suppose Pose and Relax… (not that relaxed)

  15. There is a Bikram Yoga studio in my neighborhood and the owners and most of the instructors are the most pompous and self-important people i have ever met. Most of the principles they adhere to seem to contradict everything i understand yoga practice is supposed to embrace. During the practice, the instructors are rude and debasing. When a student chooses (or requires) a breather during the physically-challenging, 103f degree, 90 minute class, they single them out, often identifying them by name and question their commitment. When someone chooses to leave the room during class, I have seen them try to humiliate them, calling them “loser” and “quitter.”

    A truly telling (and hilarious) moment occurred when an instructor began class by explaining that yoga is “not a competition”, then immediately congratulated one of their disciples for winning a “yoga competition” It’s no surprise what Mr. Choudhury is trying to do.

    1. I get the occasional Bikram refugee in my classes. One complaint is that instructors, particularly the founder, shriek insults at fat people in class. Another one mentioned the instructor walking around the room Windexing the mirrors during class.

  16. I didn’t know anything about Bikram’s rep or the copyright crap when I tried Bikram yoga, and I have to say, I loved it, I felt awesome, and had results that I never expected. Had I seen claims that hot yoga could hook me up like that, it would have set off my bullshit-o-meter and I’d never have gone near it, to my loss.

    My instructors were never insulting or derisive, and only ask that if you had to sit out a pose or series that you do so in a quiet way so as not to disrupt the concentration of others. The only time I ever saw them even be negative to anyone was to some stupid young women first timers that wouldn’t shut up giggling and carrying on after being asked repeatedly, and they just separated them, where I would have put them out. Well, and I overheard one instructor expressing disdain for the severe overuse of the Namaste from some people. I thought it a bit unprofessional, but she did think there was no one to hear, which is just how people tend to be.

    I find the cost high, and I have strong doubts about the copyright thing, although it includes the full patter that goes with the entire series, so I can’t completely disregard the copyright claim as possibly valid, it just seems trivial. I could give a shit about the competition aspect, I find that on about the same plane as dance competitions. I don’t pay extra to go to special appearances by Bikram or anyone else; I have no interest in celebrity yoga, but I am apparently in the minority there.

    I have not had the same magnitude of beneficial results with other yoga studios. Coincidence or happenstance maybe, but I’m planning to to pay the high prices again, because I personally find the benefit worth it.

    From some of the comments, there is more variety between studios than I had thought, my sister on the other side of the country had the same experience I did, which just goes to show what anecdotes get you.

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