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Monday, May 16, 2005

Yoga Guru Settles Copyright Dispute

From Associated Press

Bikram Choudhury, the Indian yoga guru who became a multimillionaire by popularizing "hot yoga" in America, has settled with a coalition of yoga studios that challenged the copyright to his version of the discipline — an art form that is thousands of years old.

Choudhury, who trademarked his name and copyrighted his techniques, had been sending cease-and-desist letters ordering studios to stop teaching the same form of yoga that his private school has used to train more than 2,000 yoga instructors who have opened more than 1,200 Bikram studios in the United States.

Some of the studios formed a cooperative and sued Choudhury, claiming that yoga cannot be copyrighted.

The settlement is confidential, but the parties involved, speaking on condition of anonymity, described it in general terms: Choudhury has agreed not to sue the 50 members of the San Francisco-based yoga cooperative, known as Open Source Yoga Unity, for copyright violations. Cooperative members have agreed not to advertise the trademarked name "Bikram" without authorization by Choudhury.

The settlement avoids a June 20 trial that might have settled the legal question of whether Choudhury's copyrighted package of 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a certain sequence in 105-degree heat, could be legally protected in federal court.

"Yoga, the word itself, means unity. So our lawsuit was of the intention of creating unity," said Sandy McCauley, co-owner of Yoga Loka, which has three studios in California.

McCauley and dozens of other instructors who formed the cooperative received threatening letters from Choudhury's attorneys.

"We were very frightened that we were going to lose our business," she said. "We are very happy with this settlement."