Bikram Choudhury is the founder of something known as “hot yoga”, which is an arrangement of yoga poses that have been known for thousands of years and performed in a very hot room. We’ve posted on Bikram before. Hot yoga has made him a very rich man. And copyright law has helped keep him that way.
Copyright law? Yup. Bikram claims a copyright in his particular sequence of yoga poses. If that seems strange to you, you’re right. Bikram’s copyright claim is complete bunk. The U.S. Copyright Office has ruled that Bikram’s routine is uncopyrightable — the poses of which it’s composed have been in the public domain forever, and the sequence is uncopyrightable exercise, not copyrightable dance. But Bikram keeps suing people. And because he has a lot of money and at least as much chutzpah, he keeps winning. Not because he wins his legal claims. But because he bombards his opponents with lawyers, and he makes them spend a ton of money to defend themselves. Eventually, they give up. It’s just not worth it to fight.
The latest Bikram target to wave the white flag is Greg Gumucio, the owner of rival hot yoga studio “Yoga to the People”. Gumucio was offering a product a lot like Bikram’s, a lot cheaper. But now Gumucio says he will change his offering.
Which points out a problem, one which isn’t limited to copyright law, but is often illustrated by it. The law on the books is one thing. The law out on the street is another. Wealthy people often can use the law to extract what they want, even when the law doesn’t properly give it to them. Bikram doesn’t have a valid copyright in the Bikram sequence. But he might as well. Until he comes up against an opponent with equally deep pockets, the law means nothing.