Bikram Revisited

In his comments to my post from 26 February 2004, Dave Dibble asked the following:

What is so special or great about Bikram Yoga that you feel threatened by this?

I’m just saying, let Bikram do what Bikram wants.  How does this negatively impact your life?

The threat, if it is a threat, is not a direct nor an immediate one.  The threat is very easy to identify though:

Due to the originality of the sequence and the strength of the copyright registration, infringement of the sequence copyright can occur in a number of ways.  In addition to exact copying of the sequence, the copyright prohibits others from creating “derivative” works of the sequence.  Virtually all modifications or additions to the sequence will constitute copyright infringement, including: the unauthorized use of even a small number of consecutive postures; the addition of different postures or breathing exercises to the sequence or portions of the sequence; the teaching or offering of the sequence with or without the Dialogue; or by the addition of extra elements to the sequence, like music.

Now, Bikram has said that his sequence of postures is basically just a derivation of those taught him by:

Bikram does not claim to have invented the poses, just the sequence – which he derived from the 84 poses taught by his guru, Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi).  “It’s become the Birkram system, but there’s no such thing as Bikram Yoga; yoga is yoga, yoga is hatha yoga,” Bikram admits.  “It’s not anybody’s property; it’s like God, it’s love, it’s nature.  But anybody picks up a few postures in a sequence and makes it a book, it’s a copyright, so somebody copies my book, I sue them.”

ASANA™, Yoga Journal December 2003, pg 99

and yet his lawyers, as shown above, want to sue people for the unauthorized use of even a small number of consecutive postures.  So, am I violating his copyright by practicing Surya Namaskara?  According to his lawyers, if Bikram uses the Surya Namaskara in his sequence then yes I am violating his copyright.  As I have no idea what poses he uses in his sequence, I have no idea whether or not I’m violating his copyright but according to his lawyers I may very well be.  There are hundreds of books, videos and DVDs about Yoga and each is rightly the copyright property of someone.  I have, as I’ve stated before, no issue with Bikram claiming copyright to his Dialogue nor to claiming trademark rights to the name Bikram Yoga.  I do have a problem with his attempt to extend that copyright to cover postures that are older than all of us or are based upon such postures.  To quote Bikram himself, It’s not anybody’s property.  How can he claim copyright to something that is not anybody’s property?  I agree with him that, unless licensed by Bikram, I have no right to use his Dialogue nor to claim to teach Bikram Yoga but I have no need to obtain his permission to practice any asana in any sequence in the environment of my choice as long as I do not call it Bikram Yoga or use his Dialogue, although he and his lawyers would have you believe otherwise.

As Dave pointed out in a follow-up comment (quoted below), at face value it would seem that Bikram is just protecting his hard work and as far as that is true, I support his efforts to maintain and defend his copyright.  Even a little research into the subject though and one quickly realizes that the potential interpretation of his copyright and the actions already taken by Bikram point to something much more than just the protection of his Dialogue and trademarks.

I don’t know if anyone is reading this.  I am looking into the Bikram copyright issue.  I honestly don’t know what all of the facts are here — I just gave my gut reaction, based largely on my understanding that Bikram is a good but very egotistical person.  I just recieved an email from a good friend of mine, (an Ashtanga teacher whose opinion I respect) about this and she is very opposed to what he is trying to do.  I am looking into this further.

On a final note for tonight:  Yes, I am reading even if no one else is.