Shortly after the beginning of fall, the yoga community was abuzz when the news broke that YogaGlo filed a patent application for “their” specific method of filming online yoga classes. The exact method is laid out in the the application:
The system and method place the instructor at the head of the classroom with live-participants arranged between the instructor and the camera with a direct line of sight between the camera and the instructor allowing for the viewer participant to have unobstructed views while simultaneously allowing for the viewer participant to have live participants in the periphery, as if the viewer was attending a live class.
In addition to filing for the patent, several sites that feature online yoga videos including Yoga International were issued cease-and-desist letters instructing them to remove their videos, lest they infringe on YogaGlo’s method. Word of YogaGlo’s actions quickly spread throughout the yoga community, and Yoga Alliance took a rather unprecedented move of weighing in on the controversy and setting up an online petition urging Yogaglo to withdraw its application. Over 14,000 signatures were collected. However, like a lot of things both inside and outside the yoga community, the controversy was soon forgotten by many…until now. So, what does Yogaglo’s victory mean for the future of online yoga classes? Simply put, no one really knows. Like many things, the devil is in the details. Originally, YogaGlo’s initial patent was rejected. It wasn’t until they added:
That the camera used to record the video must “provide a participatory view [which means ‘a view observed by a participant in the rear of the class,’ according to YogaGlo] from a height of about three feet
that the patent was granted. While some lawyers and legal scholars wonder if this patent would hold up in a court of law,
Yoga Alliance CEO Richard Karpel, who also holds a law degree, says that yoga teachers who video their classes for use online should be worried.
He adds that if indeed the patent is enforceable then yoga teachers may have to consult a lawyer to make sure they are not violating YogaGlo’s patent. If this sounds a tad sad, then you are not alone. In theory, I have no problems with patents even when it comes to yoga. If you come up with a specific, unique method, then why not legally own it? As an instructor, I understand all too well that the troubles that the vast majority of studios and instructors face just trying to earn a living and cover expenses. In their defense, YogaGlo issued a statement defending its actions, pointing out that they had not sued anyone and were not “trying to patent how classes were taught or how a teacher might film instruction in their own studio or how one might wish to film a DVD.” Rather, the claim the patent deals “very specifically with online streaming yoga classes and…with only one of many possible ways to film an online streaming yoga class.” Fair enough. However, there is a bigger question of why anyone should own any specific way to film a class. As Karpel said back in September, the idea of YogaGlo or anyone “owning” the rights to video online yoga classes in any manner just seems wrong. As Karpel says, “Even if YogaGlo was the first to come up with this idea—and there are people who contest that—but even if they were, it’s not the kind of idea that deserves legal protection.” It appears that rather than ending the controversy, issuing the patent could just be the start of a lengthy and costly legal and philosophical debate over who owns the right to film a yoga class and what if any parts of the practice of yoga are up for ownership to begin with. No matter what side of the debate one falls on, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. One thing that is for sure is that the battle over intellectual property is not the first thing that most of us think of when it comes to yoga or the yogic path. Whoever ends up “winning” or “losing” may want to ask themselves: What Would Pantanjali Do?