We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π.
This is an exception to that trend. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim Wardlaw found that Choudhury’s breathing exercises and the Bikram yoga poses are not subject to copyright protection.
Choudhury’s Bikram yoga follows strict rules about the sequence of poses, breathing methods as well as the required the temperature and furnishings of hundreds of studios. His studios and books bring in millions of dollars and he says that he has lost some of that money after a former member of Choudhury’s training staff opened up rival studios as well as others who use his poses and breathing exercises. The court held that, under 17 U.S.C. § 102(b), the “Sequence,” developed by Bikram Choudhury and described in his 1979 book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, was not a proper subject of copyright protection because it was an idea, process, or system designed to improve health, rather than an expression of an idea.
This “idea/expression dichotomy” is codified under Section 102. The Court also relied on Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879), where the Supreme Court dealt with a book explaining a system of book-keeping. Id. at 99–100. The Court held that the book’s expression of the book-keeping system was protected, but the system of book-keeping itself was not entitled to copyright protection:
The description of the art in a book, though entitled to the benefit of copyright, lays no foundation for an exclusive claim to the art itself. The object of the one is explanation; the object of the other is use. The former may be secured by copyright. The latter can only be secured, if it can be secured at all, by letters-patent.
Id. at 105.
Here is the full opinion: Choudhury opinion