Appeals Court: No You Can't Copyright Yoga
from the what's-that-got-to-do-with-software dept
We first wrote about this issue more than a decade ago, but there’s been a ridiculous attempt by some yoga instructors to use intellectual property to lock up certain yoga poses. While most of the focus has been on copyright, other attempts have used other forms of intellectual property as well. But the most watched legal dispute was the one brought by Bikram Yoga and Bikram Choudhury against Evolution Yoga… and the 9th Circuit appeals court has now made it abundantly clear: you can’t copyright yoga.
Though Choudhury emphasizes the aesthetic attributes of the Sequence?s ?graceful flow,? at bottom, the Sequence is an idea, process, or system designed to improve health. Copyright protects only the expression of this idea?the words and pictures used to describe the Sequence?and not the idea of the Sequence itself. Because the Sequence is an unprotectible idea, it is also ineligible for copyright protection as a ?compilation? or ?choreographic work.?
In other words, the idea/expression dichotomy actually matters. And it matters in important ways:
Following Baker, and recognizing this vital distinction between ideas and expression, courts have routinely held that the copyright for a work describing how to perform a process does not extend to the process itself.
Um… that seems rather important in that question over the question on whether or not APIs are covered by copyright. Since an API is just describing how to perform a process, it does not mean the process itself is covered by copyright.
Bikram tried to argue that copyright should be allowed for his poses because they are beautiful, but as the court points out, that’s got nothing to do with anything:
Choudhury contends that the Sequence?s arrangement of postures is ?particularly beautiful and graceful.? But beauty is not a basis for copyright protection. The performance of many ideas, systems, or processes may be beautiful: a surgeon?s intricate movements, a book-keeper?s careful notations, or a baker?s kneading might each possess a certain grace for at least some viewers. Indeed, from Vermeer?s milkmaid to Lewis Hine?s power house mechanic, the individual engrossed in a process has long attracted artistic attention. But the beauty of the process does not permit one who describes it to gain, through copyright, the monopolistic power to exclude all others from practicing it. This is true even where, as here, the process was conceived with at least some aesthetic considerations in mind. Just as some steps in a recipe may reflect no more than the author?s belief that a particular ingredient is beautiful or that a particular cooking technique is impressive to watch and empowering to practice, some elements in Choudhury?s Sequence may reflect his aesthetic preferences. Yet just like the recipe, the Sequence remains unprotectible as a process the design of which primarily reflects function, not expression.
Again, this seems to suggest (yet again) how wrong the CAFC got the decision over APIs.
Separately, the court rejects Bikram’s attempt to claim that his yoga sequence is a form of choreography which is (somewhat ridiculously) copyrightable.
The Sequence is not copyrightable as a choreographic work for the same reason that it is not copyrightable as a compilation: it is an idea, process, or system to which copyright protection may ?[i]n no case? extend.
This also offers the court an opportunity to explain how important the idea/expression dichotomy is, and the problems that arise when courts (like CAFC) get it totally wrong.
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 (and, in two of the preceding examples, have been) characterized as forms of dance. Without a proper understanding of the idea/expression dichotomy, one might obtain monopoly rights over these functional physical sequences by describing them in a tangible medium of expression and labeling them choreographic works. The idea/expression dichotomy thus ensures that expansive interpretations of the categories enumerated as proper subjects of copyright will, ?[i]n no case,? extend copyright protection beyond its constitutional limits.
It’s good to see the court get this right and to make it clear that there is no copyright in yoga poses. But it also highlights just how bad (and wrong) the decision in the Oracle v. Google case was by CAFC.