A group of independent yoga instructors has quietly settled a lawsuit that waved the banner of the open source software movement in their effort to practice their fitness discipline free of the copyright claims and license fees demanded by an enterprising yoga master.
While it is always positive when people can settle their differences without the expense and trouble of a court trial, in this case its quite a let down.
That because the independent yoga instructors, who brought the suit under the name Open Source Yoga Unity, (OSYU) has apparently abandoned any pretense of battling for the common good against the misuse of copyright claims in return for private legal concessions that benefit only themselves.
Thats particularly disappointing considering that OSYU had publicly proclaimed on its Web site how it was sticking up for the little guy in challenging the validity of Bikram Choudhry’s copyright claims for his yoga training system.
The stated purpose of the suit was to “resist the enforcement of the copyright protection of any Yoga style thereby ensuring its continued natural unfettered practice for all to enjoy and develop.”
However, the group announced on its site on May 3 that the suit had been dismissed after both sides had reached a “mutually satisfactory resolution.” OSYU and Bikram Yoga “look forward to working together in the future to continue to bring the benefits of yoga to the world.”
The agreement was reached after both sides started settlement talks in late March. Attorneys representing OSYU, James P Harrison of Sacramento, and Michael Page with Keker & Van Nest LLP of San Francisco declined to disclose the settlement terms, saying that the agreement requires that the terms remain confidential. Bikram Yogas attorney, Susan Hollander with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP of Palo Alto, Calif. did not return phone calls Friday.
While he clearly has a professional and legal responsibility to uphold the settlement terms, Harrisons confidentiality assertions are still ironic in light of his expansive description of his clients legal position and prospects for victory in court while the case was still pending.
OSYU contended that since yoga had been practice for more than 5,000 years there was no way that any practitioner could copyright any yoga position or set of positions because they were all in the public domain.
By taking this position and its name, OSYU was making a claim for the free practice of yoga in the same way that the open source software movement claims the right to freely use software code that has been legally placed in the public domain. But it appears that OSYU is only content to assert these claims for its members that are party to the settlement- not yoga practitioners at large.
Choudhry, a richly successful yoga teacher based in Beverly Hills, Calif., had copyrighted a series of 26 yoga positions that are practiced in studios heated to sweltering temperatures to enhance their physical conditioning effects. He also licensed yoga instructors to teach his Yoga routine in studios around the country, much like the software industry licenses technicians as qualified to maintain application servers or network operating systems.
Some independent instructors who taught variations of Choudhrys routines received demands from his organization that they cease this practice or face the prospect of litigation. These instructors founded OSYU with the expressed purpose of opposing “the litigious position Bikram Choudhry is taking against the Yoga community by his attempted enforcement of copyright protection.”
With the settlement, OSYU members have presumably gotten assurances that Choudhrys organization wont sue them for violating its asserted copyrights. But has Choudhry made any promises that it wont press claims of copyright violations against other yoga instructors who arent party to the settlement? The public and the yoga community at large may never know.
As it stands right now, Choudhrys copyright claims, which looked vulnerable before the settlement, will remain unchallenged by the courts. Unless he has made confidential assurances to OSYU, Choudhry is free to importune other instructors, into paying fees to practice his style of yoga if they aren’t in a position to marshal the time and effort to wage a legal challenge as OSYU did.
OSYU’s apparently altruistic act of draping itself with the mantel of the open source movement now seems crafty and disingenuous. The true state of matters has emerged and its just business as usual. The OSYU is just another set of pragmatic business people who cut the best deal they could for themselves. When it was time to reach a settlement, openness was the first casualty.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology.