Author: Sathyanarayanan Iyer. G


The main goal of this study is to analyse whether Yoga postures or asanas, can be a subject matter for copyright protection. Yoga, an ancient form of exercise having its origin in India, believed to have been created by Patanjali, a yogi or saint.[1]With the passage of time and in the era of globalisation this practice of yoga has spread to all parts of the world, thereby creating a commercial aspect to the yoga schoolsthat teach people about yoga.

Yoga essentially has two major steps that form the core of the exercises. These two steps are

a. Breathing (Pranayama) and,

b. Postures (Asanas).

Without performing the above two steps the exercises don’t provide the essential physical and mental benefits. With the case of Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury[2] being decided by the Court of appeal for the Ninth Circuit in the USA, the question of whether yoga can be copyrighted has become a matter of concern with different Yoga gurus trying to copyright their method of yoga practice.

Legal questions involved:

The concept of traditional knowledge not allowed to be a subject matter of copyright is a well-established principle. In Italian Book Company v. Rossi[3], the New York Court held that “folk songs are traditional in nature, therefore, the composer can only claim copyright for the tune which he has produced and he can’t restrain anyone from using the same lyrics of the folk song.” Yoga is also considered to be a traditional knowledge that has been practiced over centuries by the people. By virtue of Article 9(2) of the TRIPS agreement “Copyright protection shall extend to expressions and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such.[4]Section 1(1) of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 enumerates copyright can be granted for -

“(a)original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works,

(b)sound recordings, films [broadcasts], and

(c)the typographical arrangement of published editions.”[5]

But the act does not define the word “Original”, thereby it is to be decided upon the facts and circumstances of each case.It is difficult to establish yoga exercises under any of the above categories since yoga cannot be treated equally to a dance move for which choreography rights exist. Despite plenty of authors claim copyright for their publication on yoga, it is provided to them for their literary work. The sine qua non of copyright is the original work of the author. The Supreme court of the United States of America in Baker v Selden[6], held that “a book did not give an author the right to exclude others from practicing what was described in the book[7].

Further the Court by applying the “Idea-Expression dichotomy”, held that “author of a book can only copyright the expression used by him and not the idea when the idea is not an original work of the author[8]. In Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co.[9], the Supreme Court of the United States while deciding the copyrightability of telephone directory held that “facts are not copyrightable, but that compilations of facts can be”.[10]By virtue of this decisionthe Court moved on from the “sweat of the brow” doctrine to the doctrine of “modicum of creativity”. By this position putting up labour alone is not an essential element to claim copyright but there must be some creativity put in by the author to claim copyright for his work.

Position in England:

The Courts in England while addressing copyright issues have relied upon the “sweat of the brow” doctrine. Despite sine qua non of copyright being originality, in all circumstances‘originality’ is not interpreted in its literal meaning. The author of any literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works may have not used his idea while producing his work but wouldhave put in some labour, skill, and judgment while producing such work. The “sweat of the brow” doctrine giving recognition to the labour put in allows the author of such work to claim copyright for the work, but it does not givecomplete protection to the author of suchwork. It only protects his “expression” in the work. In University of London Press v. University Tutorial Press limited,[11], the Chancery Division Court held that “always originality in work need not be essential for copyright, but the expression must be original work of the author in order to claim copyright.”[12]


Yoga is purely a concept based on traditional knowledge arising from India. The steps involved in yoga must be performed in order to derive the benefits arising from it. Based upon different researchesperformed it has been established that “yoga reduces chances of heart attacks, reduces stress, reduces obesity, etc”.[13] If yoga gurus are allowed to claim copyright for asanas then it would create a monopoly right to such gurus and people would be forced to pay licensing fee for using it. This scenario would, therefore, lead to social issues and thereby creating health hazards. Yoga is not the original idea of any of the yoga schools which today earn a lot of money through teaching people yoga. The essential element for claiming copyright is the subsistence of originality in the work. There would be no hazard in allowing copyright for books published on yoga since it only provides protection to the literary work and would not prevent people from practising the asanas mentioned in the book. Therefore, yoga cannot be a subject matter of copyright.


[1]https://www.medicinenet.com/yoga/article.htm#who_invented_yoga [2] Bikram's Yoga College v. Evolation Yoga, No. 13-55763 (9th Cir. 2015) [3] 27 F. 2d 1014 (S.D.N.Y. 1928) [4]Article 9(2), TRIPS Agreement. [5] Section 1(1) of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 [6]101 U.S. 99 (1879) [7]https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/101/99 [8]Ibid 6. [9] 499 U.S. 340 (1991) [10]https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/499/340 [11] [1916] 2 Ch 601 [12]http://wiki.ipcompendium.ca/cases:university_of_london_press_ltd_v_university_tutorial_press_ltd [13]https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/fitness/a28508/yoga-health-benefits/

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