Ghosh Yoga College Claims Copyright Infringement Over Netflix Documentary On Bikram Choudhury

from the hot-fair-use dept

While the volume isn't enormous, I would still say that there are entirely too many Techdirt posts on the topic of yoga. Most of those center around yoga instructors somehow thinking that a specific progression of yoga poses is somehow deserving of copyright protection or patents. The whole thing feels antithetical to yoga practices to begin with, which are at least in part about bringing a calm spiritual experience into a healthy living style. Paywalling that is an odd choice.

But it gets all the more strange when a yoga organization somehow thinks that a documentary using footage to tell its story runs afoul of copyright law. That is what's happening in a public war of words between Netflix and Ghosh's Yoga College, where Bikram Choudhury studied early in his career. The documentary is entitled Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, and it details the story of Choudhury and accusations from those in his classes that he'd used racist invective and has been sexually inappropriate towards them. Where Ghosh's Yoga College comes in, however, is to complain publicly that the film used video of Choudhury practicing at its facilities.

Ghosh’s Yoga College, based in Kolkata, is claiming video footage and photographs used in the film is actually theirs, and want its immediate removal, according to the report.  In the film, early footage of Choudhury learning yoga at the school is aired as he attended the site and built his craft.

“For the past four years, I have worked hand in hand with Ghosh’s Yoga College as one of only three people who have permission to use family specific photos and material to preserve the legacy of Bishnu Charan Ghosh,” Ida Jo, ambassador for Ghosh’s Yoga College, told Metro in an interview. “They trust me to represent them around the world.

“When the production team reached out to me to get photos and materials for their new film about Bikram Choudhury, I relayed this information to the Ghosh family,” she added. “They said they had no interest in being involved. I told the filmmakers ‘No.’ Despite explicitly telling the producers they would need permission to use materials owned by Ghosh’s Yoga College, including photos and the contents of Yoga Cure, they used them anyway.”

Perhaps we need to invent a "fair use" yoga pose. I'm not sure what that would look like, but I'd certainly expect to see Netflix strike such a pose if any legal action is initiated here. The college can claim protection on these images all it likes, but Netflix would surely have a strong Fair Use case if it got to court. Bikram Choudhury is undoubtedly a public and controversial figure. Suggesting that historical footage of such a person could be walled off through a permission structure, particularly given that footage's relevance to the documentary material, would be crazy.

The public comments from Jo thus far read like a copyright dispute, but any such dispute would run squarely into fair use. More likely, the college probably would prefer its name not be associated in the film with the controversial Choudhury and is flailing around trying to figure out a way to keep that from occurring.

Unfortunately, that's not how copyright law in America works.

Filed Under: bikram choudhury, copyright, documentary, fair use, yoga
Companies: ghosh's yoga college, netflix


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 19 Dec 2019 @ 9:25pm

    Unfortunately, that's not how copyright law in America works.

    …yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Boojum (profile), 19 Dec 2019 @ 9:33pm

    Because American law rules everywhere?

    Ummm.. Unless I'm mistaken, the footage in question was taped in India, since that is where the college was. Even in the United States, fair use is determined by a balance of different tests, not a single test. So just because it is a documentary doesn't mean it's fair use, as has been proven in a number of documentaries where they couldn't use the recordings of bands performances. I don't think it is as clear cut as this article has said.
    As far as I know, the Berne convention lists nothing about documentaries in Article 9(2) where it lists what free uses can be made of protected works. Since the original work was done in India I think a strong case that the Berne convention would be the law covering this use, not U.S. Copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2019 @ 9:49pm

      Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

      Under international law, when a copy hits foreign shores, local law applies.

      That's the "territorial integrity" law in all the UN bullcrap.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Boojum (profile), 19 Dec 2019 @ 10:17pm

        Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

        So if, for example, Switzerland were to have no copyright law.. then all American movies can be copied without an move from the United States? I'm not sure that's how it works.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          ryuugami, 19 Dec 2019 @ 10:48pm

          Re: Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

          I'm not sure that's how it works.

          I'm pretty sure that's exactly how it works.

          all American movies can be copied without an move from the United States?

          US law does not apply in Switzerland, but US can push and lobby for a change of the local copyright law... as they have been doing until now.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Dec 2019 @ 2:53am

          Re: Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

          In a way that already happens with regards to public domain and copyright duration. Something can be still under copyright in one country, and therefore not free to be copied/changed/used by the public at will, but in the public domain in another country that has a slightly saner copyright duration where it can be used by the public at will.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          bhull242 (profile), 20 Dec 2019 @ 8:20am

          Re: Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

          Why do you think places like China have so much pirated crap and ripoffs?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 9:41am

          Re: Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

          That's exactly why the Berne Convention was written: to push countries to set up local copyright laws that apply to foreign works. Because otherwise they could be freely copied, and were—American publishers used to be known as some of the biggest "pirates".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 5:33pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

            The UN charter, US Constitution, and the WTO were written to kick unwanted foreign laws out of countries and make people trade on more even fields.

            That interpretation of the Berne Convention isn't valid under the US Constitution, or treaty law.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 20 Dec 2019 @ 7:32am

      Re: Because American law rules everywhere?

      Ummm.. Unless I'm mistaken, the footage in question was taped in India, since that is where the college was. Even in the United States, fair use is determined by a balance of different tests, not a single test.

      And none of those tests is "Was it taped in India?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2019 @ 11:10pm

    “When the production team reached out to me to get photos and materials for their new film about Bikram Choudhury, I relayed this information to the Ghosh family,” she added. “They said they had no interest in being involved. I told the filmmakers ‘No.’ Despite explicitly telling the producers they would need permission to use materials owned by Ghosh’s Yoga College, including photos and the contents of Yoga Cure, they used them anyway.”

    If they didn't get them from you, then, they are not yours.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Dec 2019 @ 12:39am

    "Despite explicitly telling the producers they would need permission to use materials owned by Ghosh’s Yoga College, including photos and the contents of Yoga Cure, they used them anyway.”

    At a guess - despite you telling them this, they consulted with actual lawyers who confirmed that no such permission was needed in the context of a documentary about a newsworthy subject under US law?

    As an aside, I watched both this and another documentary on Netflix recently, titled "Don't F**k With Cats". It's a somewhat fascinating tale of internet sleuths investigating animal cruelty who end up being one step ahead of police in finding a serial killer.

    In context of this site, what struck me was the widespread use of tools like Facebook, featuring not only actual posts on that site but making it very clear that most people involved were using pseudonyms and sock puppet accounts (supposedly against their terms of service in many ways). If any documentary was going to get legal threats, I'd expect that one, but so far we seem to just have people whining about archive footage on documentaries that warrant their usage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 2:08am

    More likely, the college probably would prefer its name not be associated in the film with the controversial Choudhury and is flailing around trying to figure out a way to keep that from occurring.

    Streisand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 7:21am

    Bikram Choudhury is undoubtedly a public and controversial figure. Suggesting that historical footage of such a person could be walled off through a permission structure, particularly given that footage's relevance to the documentary material, would be crazy.

    And therefore, that's exactly what will happen. Because, as Techdirt has consistently pointed out for decades now, copyright law is crazy; the entire legal framework in its current form is insane through and through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 7:37am

    Abolish Copyright

    End the crazy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2019 @ 11:04am

    Good thing the center practices yoga...makes them flexible enough to shove their head up their own ass when it comes to copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    R2_v2.0 (profile), 22 Dec 2019 @ 3:30pm

    Fair Use Yoga

    ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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