Copyright for many individuals appears to be anything they write, express, or present on paper. By putting content on a book one assumes it’s copyrightable, whether it is text, photos, or drawings. For a yoga studio in California this was the mindset. That which they organized together in the form of photos displaying poses was considered protected under copyright law. Underscored by this belief, an organization exercising the Bikram methodology of poses had produced a compilation of photos displaying poses that were in a sequence.
Subsequently and throughout an undetermined period of time, Mr. Bikram Choudhury the author of the yoga pose sequence would issue cease and desist letters threatening anyone, including yoga studios who would practice the poses. Several settlements were garnered but one studio challenged the efforts to prevent other studios from copying the poses in their classes.
The District Court in California noted the distinction between what is considered an ‘expression’ from what is an ‘idea’. The latter is not acceptable for copyright protection. The Court explained that the contents of a book, i.e., literary expression or photos are copyrightable, with the exception being the manner of form that it is presented. The exact sequence itself was at issue and it drew the distinction between an expression and an idea. The expression that is copyrightable is the presentment, if you will, of the photos in the book, but the selection of the photos or the order of the photos together in a compilation is not copyrightable. That intellectual contribution, regardless of its benefits claimed, is not protectable.
The 9th Circuit affirmed the lower court by emphasizing that the displayed sequence in the otherwise copyrightable book, is not more of a ‘an idea, process, or system’ designed for a particular purpose and not serving as a form of ‘expression’ of an idea. Its displayed format and structure of order of the selected photo sequence, as the Court determined, despite the urging that it was an expression by selecting the photos engendering a beneficial purpose, did not satisfy the rigors of a copyrightable expression.