Ghosh Yoga College Claims Copyright Infringement Over Netflix Documentary On Bikram Choudhury

While the volume isn’t enormous, I would still say that there are entirely too many Techdirt posts on the topic of yoga. Most of those center around yoga instructors somehow thinking that a specific progression of yoga poses is somehow deserving of copyright protection or patents. The whole thing feels antithetical to yoga practices to begin with, which are at least in part about bringing a calm spiritual experience into a healthy living style. Paywalling that is an odd choice.

But it gets all the more strange when a yoga organization somehow thinks that a documentary using footage to tell its story runs afoul of copyright law. That is what’s happening in a public war of words between Netflix and Ghosh’s Yoga College, where Bikram Choudhury studied early in his career. The documentary is entitled Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, and it details the story of Choudhury and accusations from those in his classes that he’d used racist invective and has been sexually inappropriate towards them. Where Ghosh’s Yoga College comes in, however, is to complain publicly that the film used video of Choudhury practicing at its facilities.

Ghosh’s Yoga College, based in Kolkata, is claiming video footage and photographs used in the film is actually theirs, and want its immediate removal, according to the report.  In the film, early footage of Choudhury learning yoga at the school is aired as he attended the site and built his craft.

“For the past four years, I have worked hand in hand with Ghosh’s Yoga College as one of only three people who have permission to use family specific photos and material to preserve the legacy of Bishnu Charan Ghosh,” Ida Jo, ambassador for Ghosh’s Yoga College, told Metro in an interview. “They trust me to represent them around the world.

“When the production team reached out to me to get photos and materials for their new film about Bikram Choudhury, I relayed this information to the Ghosh family,” she added. “They said they had no interest in being involved. I told the filmmakers ‘No.’ Despite explicitly telling the producers they would need permission to use materials owned by Ghosh’s Yoga College, including photos and the contents of Yoga Cure, they used them anyway.”

Perhaps we need to invent a “fair use” yoga pose. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I’d certainly expect to see Netflix strike such a pose if any legal action is initiated here. The college can claim protection on these images all it likes, but Netflix would surely have a strong Fair Use case if it got to court. Bikram Choudhury is undoubtedly a public and controversial figure. Suggesting that historical footage of such a person could be walled off through a permission structure, particularly given that footage’s relevance to the documentary material, would be crazy.

The public comments from Jo thus far read like a copyright dispute, but any such dispute would run squarely into fair use. More likely, the college probably would prefer its name not be associated in the film with the controversial Choudhury and is flailing around trying to figure out a way to keep that from occurring.

Unfortunately, that’s not how copyright law in America works.

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