Bikram vs. Yoga to the People

A lot of people have been talking about the lawsuit between Bikram Choudhary and Greg Gumicio of Yoga to the People.  I have been following the story since I first heard about it via the Yoga to the People Facebook Page and I didn’t know what to think about it at first.

Personally, I feel invested because, as I have stated earlier, I started my yoga practice with Yoga to the People at their original studio in NYC in 2007. For that reason alone I would like to stand up with YTTP because I feel that if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to afford yoga because at the time I was a broke college student (as opposed to now when I’m a broke college graduate). Now what I did with YTTP was not the traditional hot yoga that they are being sued for, but the Power Vinyasa Flow at the St. Marks studio. So to be fair to Bikram and YTTP I have to think of what this lawsuit is really about and I don’t feel it’s right for me to make a judgement without knowing the details.

And those details, according to this New York Times article, are still hazy to me. Bikram’s copyrighted Yoga practice is 26 postures in a 105* room. The Traditional Hot Yoga at YTTP is 26 postures in a 103* room and yes these postures are supposed to be very similar maybe even exactly the same. This is where I have a problem and it seems to be the stance of Gumicio as well. If Bikram can own a sequence of 26 postures does this mean I can’t teach that sequence in my own classes? I have never been to a Bikram class nor have I been to the traditional hot yoga class at YTTP so I do not know what all the postures are, but isn’t there a good chance I could have created a sequence with all of those postures in the same order? I don’t think that I have and I have no intention of copying somebody else’s hard work so I’m not worried about it, but isn’t it possible that I could this by coincidence? What are the legal ramifications of that?

However, we know that this is no coincidence as Gumicio was a student and worked with Bikram for years. He has taken the 26 postures and used them. I don’t know if he’s used all of them in the same exact sequence, but if he has can we blame him? It’s what he was taught and it’s what he knows. I learned a sequence in my training with CorePower Yoga and intend on teaching a similar class with my own adjustments. I think it’s a great sequence, but am I not allowed to do this? Is that what this lawsuit means for me?

Unfortunately, it does. I don’t like it, but the truth is if Bikram wins this lawsuit it means that specific sequences and flows will be able to be copyrighted. And while I may not like it, it is the law. How far that law goes to protect this sequence is up for the courts to decide and what the court does decide may, ultimately, change the Yoga industry forever.

As someone who is starting a small business in an already tepid economic climate it makes me nervous that I may step on somebody’s sequence and be opening up myself to litigation. Many people discussing the case are quoting how old Yoga is and how it can’t be owned and I agree with that. But Bikram has a viable case here; he created a sequence that is very popular and very good. But he will have to deal with others trying to emulate that. Like Coke and Pepsi, McDonalds and Burger King, or AT&T and Verizon there will always be competition. Gumicio has not called the YTTP class a Bikram class and if there are some slight adjustments then the class isn’t the same. This could be Bikram’s case to lose.

But hey, I’m not a lawyer, I’m a yoga instructor and I don’t know what is protected under Bikram’s copyright. I’m simply putting my thoughts down in a blog. What I do know is that I signed the petition at yogatruth.org because I believe that you can’t own a sequence, that you can’t own yoga, and that in principle yoga belongs to the people. It’s what I learned when I started practicing and it’s what I hope to teach in my own classes.

Namaste

Brad

P.S. – I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to agree with me and I am open to hearing your thoughts on the case. If you wish to learn more read the New York Time Article posted (as well as about a billion other articles out there) and the full lawsuit here. Also if I have gotten any of the facts incorrect please let me know and I will make edits.

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