What is it about yoga instructors? In Los Angeles they have as many groupies as rock stars. Is it the man bun? The faint scent of incense? Or is it the way they are always “helping” their female students align themselves into a perfect pose with an adjustment of the hips or a repositioning of a thigh?
Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga and self proclaimed “yogi to the stars,” has taken yoga groping to new depths. He put the dog in down dog.
“I’m beyond Superman,” Choudhury said in an interview with the now defunct Business 2.0 magazine. “I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.” However, in the last six months, California courts have been Choudhury’s kryptonite.
The Ninth Circuit delivered the first dose of judicial kryptonite to Mr. Choudhury.
Although yoga is thousands of years old and in the public domain for most of that time, Choudhury tried to copyright his “unique” yoga pose sequence contending that the sequence’s arrangement of postures is “particularly beautiful and graceful.”
In October 2015 the Ninth Circuit ruled that his “sequence of twenty-six poses and two breathing exercises arranged in a particular order” were not entitled to copyright protection. The court ruled that the sequence is an unprotectable idea and that “beauty is not the basis of copyright protection.”
If beauty were copyrightable, Choudhury would undoubtedly try to copyright himself. He describes himself on his website as the “most respected living Yoga Guru in the world.”
A Los Angeles jury delivered the next hit of kryptonite. On January 21, 2016, the jury returned a verdict against Choudhury for 6.4 million dollars. The award resulted from the sexual harassment of Minakshi Jafa-Boden. Ms. Jafa-Boden moved to LA from India in 2011 to work with Choudhury AS HIS LAWYER. According to the complaint, when Jafa-Boden attempted to investigate a claim by a female student that she had been raped during the Fall 2012 Teacher Training, Jafa-Boden was told to stay out of it and not to investigate. In addition, Jafa-Boden was subject to offensive and intimidating conduct including simulation of oral sex and pointing his finger “in the shape of a gun and demonstrating like he was shooting” Jafa-Boden.
The verdict included punitive damages of over 5.4 million dollars after the jury found that Choudhury had subjected Jafa-Boden to harassment and retaliation. The jury also found that Choudhury acted with malice, oppression and fraud, the prerequisite for an award of punitive damages in California.
This post originally appeared on abovethelaw.com.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.