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The lawyers who got all twisted up over ownership rights to a series of yoga positions can relax. The pretzel-shaped copyright dispute ended in a confidential settlement rather than an expensive trial. Open Source Yoga Unity, a nonprofit collective of yoga teachers, had sued Bikram Choudhury, a well-known yoga practitioner, after Choudhury sent cease-and-desist letters to yoga studios that he claimed were stealing his intellectual property. Choudhury is the most recognizable proponent of so-called “hot” yoga, also known as Bikram yoga. He has registered a copyright for a sequence of 26 asanas, or poses, to be performed in a heated room. Most yoga is practiced in unheated rooms. Choudhury also alleged that other teachers have stolen his techniques and wanted them to stop using his name and his sequence without his permission. Open Source, on the other hand, insists that ancient yoga techniques cannot be copyrighted and had sought a pre-emptive declaration from the courts to stave off any infringement claims Choudhury might make. In a mixed ruling a few weeks before the settlement was announced, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in San Francisco denied summary judgment motions brought by both sides. Her order, however, appeared to lean in Choudhury’s favor. Open Source “has provided no persuasive authority that a compilation of yoga asanas cannot be protected under the copyright laws in the same manner as other compilations,” wrote Hamilton. “Therefore, if the trier of fact determines that a sufficient number of the individual yoga asanas are arranged in a sufficiently creative manner, copyright protection for the yoga sequence would be available.” While details of the settlement were not disclosed, lawyers on both sides of the dispute expressed satisfaction with the outcome. “We have reached a mutually satisfactory resolution and we look forward to working together in the future to continue bringing the benefits of yoga to the world,” said Michael Page, a partner at San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest who represented Open Source. A similar endorsement came from Susan Hollander, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who represented Choudhury. Prior to the settlement, Hollander noted that Choudhury has his own certification process that permits yoga instructors to use his name and technique, but that some yoga studios have copied him without permission. But Elizabeth Rader, a lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who represented Open Source along with Page, said that was Choudhury’s own fault. She argued that because his techniques have been in the public domain, they can no longer be protected by copyright. Jeff Chorney covers federal court news for The Recorder , which publishes IP magazine.

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