Bikram Yoga vs. Yoga to the People: Is this pose worth $1M?

Students attend a “Traditional Hot Yoga” class last night at Yoga to the People.

These dueling yogis have their practices tied up in knots.

Bikram Choudhury, famed creator of Bikram Yoga, is suing Yoga to the People in the East Village for stealing his signature sequence of yoga poses.

Choudhury is demanding $1 million from Gregory Gumucio, a former student and the owner of Yoga to the People, for profiting off of what he says are his copyrighted yoga moves.

Choudhury claims he has copyright protection of his sequence of 26 poses and 105-degree temperature environment, and says Gumucio’s “Traditional Hot Yoga” classes are a ripoff of his idea.

“The use of the copyrighted material is limited to certified Bikram yoga studios,” Robert Gilchrest, Choudhury’s attorney said. 

In order to become a Bikram-certified studio, Gilchrest said, instructors must pay $10,000 to study under Choudhury and get explicit permission from Choudhury to teach Bikram.

“It’s crazy that [Choudhury] can think he owns yoga,” Gumucio responded. “If he owns the sequence, it opens a floodgate for lots of people to start trying to copyright, trademark and patent this traditional, sacred knowledge.”

Gumucio, in addition to his legal defense, has started an online petition on YogaTruth.Org to protect what he says is the public’s right to yoga.

Can you copyright a class?

Metro spoke with intellectual property lawyer Douglas Wyatt about the legality of the lawsuit.

“It is possible for yoga poses to be protected,” Wyatt said. “The copyright statutes allow for the protection of expression, which includes things like dance.”

He also said that the whopping $1 million price tag may not even be out of bounds.

“The valuation of copyright and copyrighted material depends on the market. There might not be an established rate,” he said, referring to the range of how much people pay for a yoga class. Yoga to the People charges $8 per class; Bikram demands $20.

Follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyatMetro.


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