Yoga and copyright

Author:Benjamin Beck - Konstantin von Werder
Position:Mayer Brown, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Can a sequence of movements such as yoga poses or dance steps be copyrighted?.


It is a question that has occupied the attention of international courts, scholars and copyright offices for some time. In late 2015, it attracted media attention when yoga guru Bikram Choudhury tried to copyright a signature sequence of yoga poses in the United States, but failed before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Despite various international copyright treaties, the question of what is protectable under copyright law essentially remains a matter of national law.

On February 2, 2007, the Higher Regional Court of Cologne (Case 6 U 117/06), Germany, ruled that an acrobatic dance performance could, in principle, be considered a “work of dance art” subject to copyright protection under the German Copyright Act (Sec. 2, para. 1, No. 3). The required threshold of originality could, however, only be achieved if the performance went beyond a sequence of physical movements and conveyed a particular artistic message. Whether this ruling can be extended to yoga and exercise routines by analogy is not clear, but simple routines are not likely to constitute “personal intellectual creations” within the meaning of the German Copyright Act (Sec. 2, para. 2).

An integrated, coherent, and expressive whole

In a further example, the United States Copyright Office, in a Statement of Policy from June 18, 2012, took the position that “a selection, coordination, or arrangement of functional physical movements such as sports movements, exercises, and other ordinary motor activities” did not...

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