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April 08, 2005

Whose Yoga Is It, Anyway?

First neem, and now yoga!

You've heard of the open source software movement, now it's the turn of yoga to fight for 'open source' in the US courts. Copyright and trademarking of yoga practices, something that is likely to shake up the roots of the centuries-old tradition, is now taking centre stage in the US.

While there's still some way to any decision, the California courts are now hearing the case for copyrighting of yoga routines, and lawyers and practitioners say this will have far-reaching implications on yoga practitioners all over the world.

The case comes out of a long-standing legal battle between the popular US-based proponent of Yoga, Bikram Choudhary, and an organisation of yoga-studio owners and teachers called Open Source Yoga Unity (OSYU). Choudhury has written a book, which is duly copyrighted, on a routine of asanas which he calls Bikram Yoga.

Some time back, he sent notices to a series of yoga studios to cease and desist from using this routine, as this constituted a copyright infringement. The studios formed OSYU, and are fighting it out in court. Vanessa Calder, chairperson, OSYU, objects to Bikram Yoga's claims, "One cannot copyright, or own in any manner, an exercise routine."

Traditional proponent of yoga, Prashant Iyengar, son of the legendary BKS Iyengar, rejects the very idea of any form of trademark or ownership over yoga. "We are not teaching a new brand of yoga, though our pupils like to call it Iyengar Yoga. We are following the age-old traditional methods of yoga. We can't claim ownership."

Lawyers beg to differ. Rahul Mathan, a patent expert, says, "US trademark and copyright laws are the broadest in the world, while their application is not global, they create an unhealthy precedent."

K Yatish Rajawat

04:19 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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