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Bikram 'Hot Yoga' Moves Can't Be Copyrighted, Regulator Says

By DNAinfo Staff on December 10, 2011 12:27pm

By Jon Schuppe and Serena Solomon

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — You can’t copyright a yoga move.

That is what Yoga to the People founder Gregory Gumucio is saying in response to a federal lawsuit in which his erstwhile mentor, Bikram Choudhury, accused him of stealing poses.

And that, Gumucio says, is why his East Village-based studio should be allowed to continue offering cheaper, generic “traditional hot yoga” classes that offer near-replicas of the 26 poses in a superheated room that are universally known as Bikram Yoga.

In legal papers filed Friday in a Los Angeles court, Yoga to the People argued that Choudhury has no right to claim a monopoly on the style of yoga that he invented in the 1970s. Gumucio cited a decision from the U.S. Copyright Office that indicates that yoga exercises aren’t protected by current law. On those grounds, and others, he asked a judge to toss the lawsuit, first reported by DNAinfo.

Students complete pose number 20 called Supta Vajrasana. There are 26 poses in a Bikram Yoga class.
Students complete pose number 20 called Supta Vajrasana. There are 26 poses in a Bikram Yoga class.
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Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Gumucio, who graduated from a Bikram training course in 1996, also said it saddened him to fight it out in court.

“I very much regret that Bikram has brought the lawsuit,” Gumucio said in a statement. “He was my teacher. I continue to respect him and to honor his accomplishments…I see my own mission as compatible with Bikram’s. I wish to provide as many people as possible access to the benefits of yoga.”

Yoga to the People, which now has a dozen studios around the country, offers classes with a suggested donation of $5 or $10 and charges $8 for the “traditional hot yoga” class — less than half the price of an average $20 fee from a single a Bikram yoga class.

Before filing the lawsuit in September, Choudhury sent an undercover investigator into a Yoga to the People class to confirm it was a “virtual mirror image of Bikram Yoga” and “used virtually verbatim the Bikram Yoga dialogue." The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $1 million, and an injunction stopping Yoga to the People from offering the “hot yoga” classes.

Choudhury has filed several similar lawsuits seeking to prevent the duplication of Bikram Yoga, which he copyrighted in 2002 as it skyrocketed to success and began being practiced by a host of celebrities, including Lady Gaga. One of the targets, Prana Yoga in Los Angeles, settled out of court, Choudhury says.

A midtown branch of Bikram Yoga closed last summer, and the owner blamed Yoga to the People in part of putting him out of business. Other studios have criticized Yoga to the People for undercutting them with lower prices and uncertified teachers, according to the Daily News.

It costs $10,000 per teacher to be certified as a Bikram instructor, according to the lawsuit.