YOGA AND COPYRIGHTS

Introduction

When one thinks about fitness or health, ‘Yoga’ is the first thing that comes to mind. Practicing yoga on a daily basis helps you to maintain a balanced and relaxed life. Yoga is defined as union between limited self and divine self. Bhagwad Gita, a classical text on yoga defines yoga in following ways:-

  1. Yoga is equanimity of mind in success and failure.
  2. Yoga is discretion in work.
  3. Yoga is the remover of misery and destroyer of pain.
  4. Yoga is serenity.
  5. Yoga is the giver of infinite happiness.

Patanjali, the author of the classical Yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, define Yoga as, “complete control over patterns or modifications of mind.”

Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field”.[1] But if one follows the dictionary he might define it as, “Yoga is a type of exercise in which you move your body into various positions in order to become more fit or flexible, to improve your breathing, and to relax your mind” or maybe “Yoga is a philosophy which first developed in India, in which physical exercises and meditation are believed to help people to become calmer and united in spirit with God.[2]

Though India being the Birth place of ‘Yoga’, today it has spread worldwide and celebrated on 21st of June every year an initiation made by our prime Minister-Narendra Modi. He made a point to which every single individual agreed upon and therefore we today celebrate the International yoga day on 21st of June since 2015.

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well-being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

— Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly on 27 September 2014.[3]

Yoga among other things has evolved with time and needs. There are about 4 stages in the history of yoga focusing on various aspects of life:

PRE-CLASSICAL YOGA

According to sources, the beginnings of yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in northern India around 5000 years ago.[4] The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures.[5] The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).

 

CLASSICAL YOGA – 500 BC

Classical Yoga is a system of self-realization that was codified by Patanjali sometime around 200 – 500 AD in a text called The Yoga Sutras.[6] He wrote Yoga Sutras to explain the process and systematic analysis of practical methods for awakening and expanding the higher faculties of mind, intellect, quality of consciousness. His path of Ashtanga yoga included yamas and niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyan, and Samadhi.

POST-CLASSICAL YOGA – 800 AD

Shankaracharya – A revolutionary Yoga Master who lived in 800 AD, reenergized and restored the yoga culture. He united various yoga traditions, sorted the ideological differences and gave science of yoga a wider appeal. He wrote commentaries on Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Vedant philosophy, which are wonderful insights in to science of yoga. He founded the tradition of Swami Sannyasa or monks who played a very positive role in society after that.

(HATHA YOGA) 600 AD – 1500 AD

Hatha Yoga, the most popular tradition of yoga was developed during 600 to 1500 AD.A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. Hatha Yoga focuses on strengthening and purification of body – mind. Harmony of body and mind is the main objective and is achieved by practice of asanas, cleansing, pranayama, mudras, and bandhas. Hatha yoga was founded by Sage Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. This form of yoga was more practical and helped everyone improve their health.

MODERN TIMES 1890’S[7]

In the late 19th century, yoga started traveling to the west. The first of the masters was Swami Vivekananda who wowed the audience at a lecture on yoga in Chicago in 1897. He was a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa from Kolkata in India. Swami Vivekananda was a sanyasi (monk) and he presented the true picture of science of yoga and convinced intellectuals in the west about importance of yoga for humanity. His lectures on Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga are real inspirations to every yoga follower. He founded an organization Ramkrishna Mission which works for keeping the pure spiritual traditions of yoga alive and to uplift the society.

With the time modernizing and people becoming more aware about their rights provided by the law, it has caused a major impact on Yoga as well. Copyright registration services in India are gaining acceptance with regards to people claiming to own and have exclusive rights over the sequence of yoga steps or the techniques or the different yoga poses.

 

Yoga and the Copyrights Act, 1957

Recently, owning yoga steps and techniques was among the hot topics for debates “whether yoga steps can be copyrighted or not?” Due to this, the existence of  copyright registration services in India was also doubted.

A copyright gives certain exclusive and privileged rights to person who with their effort create and innovate works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic as well as certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works extending only to an author’s original contribution to a work and that should be unique in itself. To be protected by copyright, the work must be more than an idea because a copyright does not protect an idea or plan but it protects the ‘expression’ of that idea or plan.

But copyrighting a yoga pattern was quite unimaginable due to the enlisted provisions in the Copyright Act. According to section 13 of the Copyrights Act, 1957 copyrightable works include the following categories:

  • literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural plans, drawings and actual buildings

Section 13 of the same act also mentions the works and innovations that one cannot copyright

  • “Intangible form of expression.” This means the work must be written or otherwise recorded.
  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans. (You may be able to trademark or service mark these.)
  • Familiar symbols or designs, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring
  • Mere listings of ingredients or contents (but a recipe with instructions or directions can be copyrighted
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devises, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
  • Works that are “common property” and have no original authorship, for example, standard calendars, tape measures and rules, height and weight charts, lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources.
  • Works that are in the public domain, for which the copyright has expired. Usually, this refers to works published before 1923.

Overall, yoga is a pattern that cannot be copyrighted under copyright registration services in India. Let us have a look at some case laws that draw a parallel between yoga and copyright registration services.

Case Laws

Well, there has been a recent case[8]in late 2015, where the plaintiff sued the defendants alleging the infringement of “Bikram’s Copyrighted Works through substantial use of Bikram’s Copyrighted Works in and as part of Defendants’ offering of yoga classes.”[9]

The legal saga initially began in 2011, when Mark Drost, co-founder of Evolution Yoga, received a complaint from Choudhury accusing him of copyright infringement among other allegations. Drost was one of the senior members of Bikram’s staff until 2008 when he left to start Evolution studios and lead teacher training, instructing students in the Primary Hot Series as originally popularized by Choudhury. Drost decided to fight back, winning a summary judgment in 2012.

The plaintiff, Bikram Choudhury claimed, he founded the ‘Bikram Yoga’ form of exercise and described in his 1979 book, which is among the most renowned forms of the art, with participants performing yoga postures in rooms heated to 40.6 degrees Celsius and that Evolution founders, the husband-wife duo had set up a “copy-cat yoga system that offers classes that utilize and infringe” on his copyrighted sequence of yoga postures.[10]

In an order by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California yesterday, a bench of three judges ruled in favor of city-based Evolution Yoga. The judges held that the question of whether the sequence of 26 yoga poses and two breathing exercises developed by Choudhury implicates a fundamental principle underlying constitutional and statutory copyright protection – the idea/expression dichotomy.

“Copyright protection is limited to the expression of ideas, and does not extend to the ideas themselves, and since the Bikram Yoga Sequence is not a proper subject of copyright protection because the Sequence (of yoga postures) was a mere idea, and also ineligible for copyright protection as a compilation or choreographic work,” it also further stated, “Our day-to-day lives consist of many routinized physical movements, from brushing one’s teeth to pushing a lawnmower to shaking a Polaroid picture, that could be… characterized as forms of dance,”[11]

In another recent judgment pronounced by Delhi High Court with regards to the case of Institute for Inner studies Vs Charlotte Anderson,[12] it was clarified that exclusive rights over yoga asanas and pranic healing, which are derivatives of ancient yoga technique in India cannot be claimed under Indian Trade Mark Law and Indian Copyright Law.[13] A Philippines based Institute of inner studies moved to the court to restrain some people from teaching yoga poses and claiming them to be developed by Master ChoaKok Sui (founder). IIS also stated that their yoga techniques and ‘Pranic healing’ were claimed under copyright registration services and trademark laws of the country.

The court held that the so mentioned ‘Pranic healing’ techniques were already existed in a book a book written by Swami Ramachakra[14] and therefore available in the public domain. Hence due to the lack of distinctiveness required under the Trademarks act[15] court noted that the IIS had made a false claim and that IIS cannot claim copyright ownership over pranic healing or any other yoga techniques per se, which is a part of traditional knowledge since the time of Maharishi Patanjali.

Conclusion

We can conclude that yoga had been present in our society for way longer than one can imagine. Today it has reached out to every corner of the globe, motivating and encouraging people to live a better and healthier lifestyle. This is why the need for copyright registration service arise. The techniques and sequences of yoga may vary from region to region depending on believes and needs. Even though, one has a unique way of practicing yoga they cannot stop others from practicing the same. Though people have given it a major thought but have failed to establish the link between yoga and copyright because the uniqueness is the sequence of it being practiced. According to the above mentioned case law it can be said that the techniques and sequence of yoga is simply just an idea and because the copyrights act protects the expression and not merely the idea, yoga cannot therefore be copyrighted by the copyright registration service in India.

By:Aparna Jain, Harinder Narvan, Aashrika Ahuja and Ankita Banerjee, KNOWLEDGENTIA CONSULTANTS

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