While the various yoga practices belong to the long tradition of Indian culture, the specific arrangement of these poses can be uniquely organized, and thus potentially owned by an individual — or so it was previously thought.

On June 22, the Copyright Office seemed to reverse itself. Deputy General Counsel Robert Kasunic issued a clarification, declaring that if yoga postures improve health, they cannot be copyrighted. He added that any prior yoga copyrights were "issued in error."

The announcement threw the dispute into the air. Now, the question isn't just whether Gumucio violated a copyright, but whether Bikram's copyright is valid at all.

Bikram Choudhury
Courtesy of Bikram Choudhury
Bikram Choudhury

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This would appear to leave Bikram on thin ice. The healing of ailments has always been his primary selling point. Or at least that's how Gumucio sees it.

"Not only does this get me out of my legal mess, but it critically and unequivocally says yoga cannot be copyrighted," he says.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Nothing to do with the federal government ever is.

While Kasunic admits that Bikram's copyright likely was issued in error, and that no new copyrights will be issued to yoga, he also says his office has no plans to re-evaluate the ones already issued.

In other words, his is a quintessential government mea culpa: Yes, we probably messed up. But you don't expect us to actually do anything about it, do you?

Instead, Bikram and Gumucio will have to wait for a judge to settle their war when the case goes to trial in Los Angeles some time next year.


To most of the country, the yoga war may be nothing more than another mercantile fight between two titans wrestling over the spoils of their industry. Yet back at the banquet hall in Boston, Bikram frames Gumucio as a villain on par with the all-time greats.

"If you have a sick body, a screw-loose brain, you will only be surviving — that will be a man like Greg, Hitler, or Osama Bin Laden," he says, between bites of plump scallops.

Bikram now claims "zero feeling" for his old disciple and believes that the American courts eventually will decide that rectitude is at his side, where it rightfully belongs.

"You cannot steal somebody's intellectual property. Law and justice protect," Bikram says, leaning close to be heard amid the roar of conversation, his small brown eyes red with exhaustion. "Because I'm a sweet, kind guy, everybody think I'm an idiot, I'm weak. Now I have to protect my franchising. If I don't, nobody will buy my franchising anymore."

Suddenly, there is the chime of a butter knife clinking against a wine glass for quiet. It comes from one of Bikram's close friends, who is standing with his arm around the guru's wife, Rajashree.

"Today is Bikram and Rajashree's 23rd wedding anniversary," the man announces proudly as the room erupts in applause.

"Oh, I forgot! Shit!" Bikram exclaims as a large mango cake is wheeled to the center of the room. "I forgot completely! Shit! Why you didn't remind me? Shit! You keep me too busy!"

The yogis sing "happy anniversary" to the tune of "Happy Birthday." Then Bikram announces that, far from forgetting the occasion, he has bought his wife one of the world's most expensive cars, an $800,000 Rolls-Royce convertible.

Bikram seems to inflate with energy as he addresses his followers. "You work hard to make me famous," he says. "Something I did right all over the globe."

"Brainwashing!" someone calls out.

Bikram laughs. "Nobody in the world ever did this," he continues. "Nobody built a family like this."

A family — with all the usual exclusions and estrangements.

When he returns to the table, Bikram turns to me. "Greg Gumucio, he's finished," he says. "He's ass in the grass."

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5 comments
babosoff30
babosoff30

The whole point about yoga is, to remove your ego from yourself .I used to teach yoga and got fed up with the whole thing when I saw other yoga teachers letting  their egos get in the way of teaching. Yoga is over 5,000 years old and why does he think he can put a copyright on  yoga poses? 

It's not about making money either and I was always taught by my yoga teachers  to share my knowledge of yoga with others and I did with anyone who wanted to learn it. It sickens me when I see how greedy people are with teaching yoga I hope people who read about  Choudhury and his Birkram hot yoga think twice about giving him anymore of their money. He's into making large amounts of money for himself and his empire. This is NOT what yoga was EVER about!

 

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Mark
Mark

I have good name for Bikram and all types of hot yoga. I call it "not yoga", because it is simply NOT yoga. Anybody who has does a serious study of Yoga can tell you that Bikram is an exercise only, and a stupid one at that. You don't need a dangerously hot room to do yoga. And Bikram the person is not a yogi; he is just a sadistic asshole and an over-glorified aerobics instructor. No yogi in their right mind would sue somebody for "stealing their moves".

Anonymous
Anonymous

Stupid headline. There's no tradition with Bikram. It's a pop fad version of traditional yoga.

Mummer62
Mummer62

I did Bikram in Phoenix for a year. It's hard, sweaty and expensive. Yes, it does work if you're commited but you know what? So does "traditional" yoga work too. Bikram has become just another rich, Hollywood egomanial asshole. It's ironic because his egomania is so against most yoga precepts. I really hope he loses this lawsuit.

Marcy
Marcy

Just another cult complete with the required adulation of the cult leader.

 
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