Bikram Yoga Guru Reaches Settlement in Copyright Suit

Bikram Choudhury had sued his former protege for copying trademarked yoga poses.

ByABC News
December 3, 2012, 2:09 PM

Dec. 3, 2012— -- Bikram Choudhury, one of the world's most successful yoga gurus and a pioneer of "hot yoga," has reached a settlement in a suit he brought against a former protégé for teaching his copyrighted sequence of yoga poses.

In a joint statement to "Nightline," Choudhury and rival Greg Gumucio said they have agreed that, starting in February, Gumucio's Yoga To The People studios, located in New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., will no longer teach the sequence of 26 Asana poses and dialogue known as Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class.

This story is part of an upcoming "Nightline" segment on Bikram Choudhury, which will air at a future date. Watch "Nightline" weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET

At stake in the case was the question of whether this ancient Hindu discipline should rightly be the focus of United States copyright protection. Both Choudhury and Gumucio spoke with "Nightline" before the case went to trial.

"Here you have this traditional knowledge that's been around for 5,000 years and there was kind of a run on the bank," Gumucio told "Nightline" in a recent interview. "It's kind of like if Arnold Schwarzenegger said I'm going to do five bench presses, six curls, seven squats, call it 'Arnold's Work' and nobody can show that or teach that without my permission. That's crazy to me."

Recognizing yoga as a potential cash cow, Choudhury was among the first prominent yogis to trademark his name and protect his routine by copyright.

Bikram Yoga is a rigorous sequence of 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees. Choudhury developed the practice in the 1970s and has turned it into a wildly successful business model with a passionate global following. He estimates that "half a billion people" have "benefited" from Bikram yoga and has made millions of dollars in the process.

The legal maneuvers to protect his brand have been largely viewed as controversial in the yoga world. Last year, Choudhury sued Gumucio, whose studios offered hot yoga, among other yoga classes, for copyright infringement.

"He is my student," Choudhury told "Nightline." "I trained him. I gave him gift of my school in Seattle to run it and he did it very successful, and then he get greedy. So it has to be stopped."

Gumucio countersued, arguing Choudhury had no business copyrighting yoga to begin with.

"It's kind of like the 'Emperor's New Clothes,'" Gumucio said. "Somebody has to stop and say this is crazy, and hopefully we are starting to take the lead."

The U.S. Copyright Office appeared receptive to Gumucio's argument, clarifying earlier this year that while choreography can be copyrighted that might not be the case for choreography that purports to have medical benefits.

The settlement, reached Thursday, was approved Friday and posted today by a U.S. federal district judge in Los Angeles. In exchange for Gumucio agreeing no longer to teach Choudhury's routine, Choudhury agreed to drop the suit.