BIKRAM'S YOGA COLLEGE OF INDIA, L.P. v. EVOLATION YOGA, LLC Case No. 2:11-cv-5506-ODW(SSx).
BIKRAM'S YOGA COLLEGE OF INDIA, L.P.; BIKRAM CHOUDHURY, Plaintiffs, v. EVOLATION YOGA, LLC; MARK DROST; ZEFEA SAMSON; and DOES 1 through 10, Defendants.
United States District Court, C.D. California.
December 14, 2012.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
OTIS D. WRIGHT, II, District Judge.
Copyrights cover an author's creative expression of facts and ideas—the facts and ideas themselves are not protected. Defendants Evolation Yoga, LLC, Mark Drost, and Zefea Samson contend that they do not infringe on Plaintiff Bikram Choudhury's copyrights by teaching or performing the yoga sequence described in the copyrighted works. Choudhury insists that they do infringe; the copyrights are broad and cover not only the actual written or audiovisual works, but the depicted yoga sequence as well—like a pantomime or choreographic work. The Court concludes that the yoga sequence itself is not covered under Choudhury's copyrights and thus, there can be no infringement. Accordingly, the Court
Bikram Choudhury developed the Bikram Yoga brand and its yoga system, which includes 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises that are always performed in the same order, and in the same manner: in a room heated to 105 degree Fahrenheit for precisely 90 minutes. (Compl. ¶ 17-18.) Choudhury claims that his yoga system ("Sequence") is capable of helping to avoid, correct, cure, heal, and alleviate the symptoms of a variety of diseases and health issues. (UF 19-22.) He began offering Bikram Yoga classes around 1971 at Bikram's Yoga College of India. (Compl. ¶ 19.)
In 1994, Choudhury created the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Course. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Choudhury also wrote different books describing and depicting the Sequence and obtained copyright registrations for them. (Compl. ¶¶ 31-33.) In 1979, Choudhury obtained a copyright registration (TX 179-160) for a book titled "Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class." (Compl. ¶ 31.) In 2002, he obtained a supplemental registration to his 1979 copyright (TX 5-624-003). (Compl. ¶ 32.) He also attempted to register a copyright for "Bikram's Asana Sequence" as a work of the performing arts in 2002—but this was never registered by the Copyright Office. (Mot. 14.)
Drost and Samson were trainees of Bikram's Course and as a result, became authorized to teach Bikram's Basic Yoga System. (Compl. ¶¶ 38-39.) Subsequently, Drost and Samson formed Evolation Yoga, LLC and opened numerous yoga studios, offering yoga classes that utilize the Sequence that Bikram developed without Bikram's authorization. (Compl. ¶¶ 38, 44, 46, 47.) As a result, Plaintiffs Bikram's Yoga College of India, L.P. and Bikram Choudhury demanded that Defendants cease and desist from using and teaching Bikram Yoga. (Compl. ¶ 56.) Unable to settle their differences, Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendants for: (1) copyright infringement; (2) trademark infringement; (3) false designation of origin; (4) dilution; (5) unfair competition; (6) unfair business practices; (7) breach of contract; and (8) inducing breach of contract. Plaintiffs also claim that such violations were willful. (Compl. ¶¶ 59, 69, 74, 77, 79.)
Defendants now ask the Court to grant their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment for noninfringement of Choudhury's copyrights as to their use of the taught Sequence.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment should be granted if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
A genuine issue of material fact must be more than a scintilla of evidence, or evidence that is merely colorable or not significantly probative. Addisu v. Fred Meyer,
To establish copyright infringement, a plaintiff must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright in the infringed work, and (2) copying of the copyrighted work's original elements. Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co.,
The issue in this Motion is whether the Sequence created by Choudhury is protected under one of his various copyrights.
A. Copyrights cover creative expressions, not facts or ideas
Defendants do not presently dispute the validity of Choudhury's copyrights. Instead, they point out that the copyright registrations are only for his books and audiovisual works, which depict and describe the Yoga Sequence. (Choudhury Decl. Exs. H, I, O, U.) The copyright office did not issue to Choudhury a copyright registration for a pantomime or choreographic work, exercise routine, or compilation of postures. Plaintiffs contend that the Supplemental Registration TX 5-624-003 is a registration for the Sequence. (Opp'n 9); (Choudhury Decl. Ex. N.) This is not true. This registration is for a supplement to the 1979 copyright for Choudhury's book, adding the notation that Choudhury is the author of a "compilation of exercises." (Id.) In other words, the supplemental registration clarifies that Choudhury's contribution includes the Sequence; not that the registration was for the Sequence itself.
But Plaintiffs assert that the copyrights cover the Sequence. (Opp'n 9.) That is, anyone performing the Sequence, as taught by Choudhury's books and videos, commits copyright infringement. But this argument is tenuous—facts and ideas within a work are not protected; only an author's expression of them is. Shaw v. Lindheim,
B. A system of exercises or yoga poses is not copyrightable subject matter
Moreover, only certain categories of creative works may be copyrighted. Under 17 U.S.C. § 102(a), copyright protection subsists in original works of authorship, which are limited to these categories: (1) literary works; (2) musical works; (3) dramatic works; (4) pantomimes and choreographic works; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural works. The Sequence itself does not fall into any of these categories.
The Sequence—Choudhury's compilation of exercises and yoga poses (and not the book or videos depicting the compilation)—is merely a procedure or system of exercises. Regardless of the categories enumerated in § 102(a), copyright protection does not "extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work." 17 U.S.C. § 102(b). According to the Copyright Office, a "compilation of yoga poses may be precluded from registration as a functional system or process in cases where the particular movements and the order in which they are to be performed are said to result in improvements in one's health or physical or mental condition."
But Plaintiffs contend that the Sequence is at least copyrightable as a pantomime or a choreographic work because the Sequence consists of "significant gestures without speech." 1 Nimmer § 2.07[A] at 2-67; (Opp'n 14.) However, Congress contemplated copyright protection for dramatic works to be something significantly more than what Plaintiffs offer here:
Thus, preferable forms of pantomimes or choreographic works—ones that satisfied the fixation requirement for copyrights—are ones recorded in either the Laban system of notation or as a motion picture of the dance. 1 Nimmer § 2.07[C] at 2-70. Choudhury's copyrighted works are not either of those. Further, the Sequence of 26 yoga poses hardly seems to fall within the definition of a pantomime or a choreographic work because of the simplicity of the Sequence and the fact that it is not a dramatic performance.
And as explicitly explained by the Copyright Office, compilations of exercises—specifically yoga exercises—are not copyrightable:
Although books or photographs that depict a compilation of exercises may be copyrightable, the "compilation authorship would not extend to the selection, coordination or arrangement of the exercises themselves that are depicted in the photographs or drawings." Id. In contrast, Plaintiffs argue that the "component parts of a collective work" do not have to be original for the author to copyright the compilation, but it is enough that the collection was selected, coordinated, and arranged in such a way that makes the work as a whole an original work of authorship. (Opp'n 10.) This is not enough in this instance involving a yoga system. The Copyright Office made clear that "exercise is not a category of authorship in section 102 and thus a compilation of exercises would not be copyrightable subject matter." 77 Fed. Reg. 37605, 37607 (June 22, 2012). Thus, even if the manner in which Choudhury arranged the Sequence is unique, the Sequence would not be copyrightable subject matter because individual yoga poses are not copyrightable subject matter.
For the reasons discussed above, the Court finds that the Sequence is not copyrightable subject matter; and thus, not included within the ambit of Choudhury's various copyrights for his books and audiovisual works. Defendants cannot be liable for copyright infringement for teaching, using, or performing the Sequence, as described and depicted in the copyrighted works.
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