Category Archives: Copyright

Can You Copyright Yoga?

Another day, another news story about Bikram Choudhury.  This time he’s making waves for his ongoing quest to copyright or patent the sequence of 26 poses practiced in “Bikram yoga”.  Personal feelings about the guru aside, can you copyright yoga?

The nation of India says NO!

They are putting the final touches on a database that catalogs 1,300 different yoga poses. The goal is that “once the database is up online, patent offices across the world will have a reference point to check on everytime a yoga guru claims patent on a particluar `asana’.”

Three cheers for India!  However, the article gets a couple of things confused, so before we celebrate Open Source Yoga with many Sun Salutations, let’s clarify a couple things.

The article uses the terms copyright and patent interchangeably.  The two are not the same thing.  Let’s repeat that: copyright and patent are NOT the same.  According to

Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be […]

So by its very history and definition, yoga, yoga poses and sequences of yoga poses cannot be copyrighted or patented.    Though this does touch on the age old debate of “what is yoga?” Is it a religion? A method of exercise? A spiritual practice? An idea? An invention? A discovery?

Even if someone (Choudhury, I’m looking at YOU)  DID succeed in copyrighting yoga, the multitude of ways it’s practiced and taught fall squarely in the camp of “fair use.”

Rather than find your own government guru, here’s a refresher:

“Section 107 (of US Copyright Law) contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
2. The nature of the copyrighted work
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

26 poses out of 1300 is absolutely fair use … if one was to go so far as to try and obtain some form of legally binding agreement to prevent anyone else using, teaching or practicing that same sequence without prior acknowledgment and monetary compensation.  Seriously??  Don’t make the Baby Buddha cry.

“But this is all in the US!” you might say.  “What about India?”  The U.S. and India have a very close relationship when it comes to copyright and patent law. According to circular International Copyright Relations of the United States published by the US copyright office in 2010, India has participated and signed on all the major agreements of the last 83 years. (See page 8 of the report.)

So whether you practice a Power Yoga, Forrest Yoga, Jivamukti, Prana Flow, Prana Power, Bikram or Kripalu … it’s all yoga.  Maybe it can be trademarked, but it can’t be copyrighted or patented.




State of Plagiarism – An SBTB Response

The always interesting and always passionate topic of plagiarism came up over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books a few days ago.   Realizing it has been one year since SBTB revealed the massive levels of plagiarism conducted by romance author Cassie Edwards, Jane over at Dear Author and SB Sarah of SBTB discussed where the issue, and the industry, are one year later.

Post-author SB Sarah wisely asks:

“Do we, as a community, believe in the need for intellectual honesty and creativity?”

To that I give a “hell yeah!”  At least on a personal level, as an observer of the world around me, if “we, as a community” do believe in “intellectual honesty and creativity”, then one would assume that plagiarism wouldn’t exist — and yet it does, in ever increasing frequency.  Or so the media would have us believe.

The Penguin Group, publisher of James Frey, and former publisher of Cassie Edwards, Margaret B. Jones, and now Herman Rosenblat, has been beset with authors claiming false stories as true.  Rosenblat is only the most recent to sell a false memoir for many years, only to have the truth uncovered amidst a storm of media attention.

It would be easy to rant against Penguin for being so gullible, but having worked in the trade publishing industry, (and in the interest of full disclosure, I worked at Penguin from 2003-2005), it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.  Decisions on purchases and author contracts have to be make in seconds, thus the publisher trusts that the author is giving them what they say they are: a non-fiction book with all works cited, a work of fiction that is wholly their own, a memoir based on the author’s real life, etc…

The accountability has always been with the creator.  It is up to you, as the creator, to give credit when credit is due.  President Obama said it best in his inaugural address: “it is time to set aside childish things … what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility…”  We are the creators, the authors of our own existence and that which we create in it. We are the only people responsible for that life.  The blame is not on the publishers for failing to catch plagiarism; the blame is not on the victim of plagiarism; the blame is not on the person who cries foul and reveals the injustice.  The blame is squarely on the shoulders of the person who failed to responsible and accountable for their own work.

So what are the solutions?  Here are some suggestions from a publisher-turned-librarian, and avid reader:

1) Personal Responsibility. Put on your Big Girl/Big Boy panties and own up to your creative process. If something inspires you – GREAT!  Use it – just don’t forget to cite it.  Here’s a handy little “cheat sheet” (haha!) on plagiarism, copyright and fair use.

2) Support the victims of plagiarism and punish the purportrators.  This may be tough, since there will always be those who claim plagiarism in cases when there was none, and sometimes great minds can think alike.

3) Fiction writers could cite their sources.  There have been some arguments that this is impossible for fiction, but I think listing inspirational sources would be great.  I read a lot of historical fiction and historical romances and am always curious where the authors found the information on class rank, clothes, and household items: right down to when having an Aubusson carpet was a sign of class to when it went out of fashion.  I think this level of research and historic detail would be fascinating and I would love to know what sources authors turned to and where they added their own creative flair.

What do you think?  What would you suggest?

HP Lexicon – a solution?

There has been much written about the recent trial of Stephen Vander Ark and his Harry Potter Lexicon.  The court recently came to a decision and ruled in favor of J.K. Rowling.  The decision was an interesting one because the court, even though they ruled in favor of Rowling, stated that reference books are protected entities.  A reference work, with the exception of the HPL, is within the bounds of “fair use” (a devil of a phrase) of copyrighted works.

One of the best summaries that I’ve come across is Chris Meadows analysis on Teleread.  I especially like his closing argument

“but now that this decision has provided a blueprint for how to pass fair use muster, she won’t get that lucky again.”

I wonder, in the future, will this case be a new benchmark in copyright law?  Has it set any new precedents or is just a reaffirmation of something we already knew?