Bikram documentary in copyright row

A still from ‘Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’

A still from ‘Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’   | Photo Credit: Netflix


‘Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator’ premiered at TIFF in September, and is currently available on Netflix

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, the critically-acclaimed documentary that spotlights rape and sexual harassment charges against the controversial yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, has landed in a copyright row. Kolkata based Ghosh’s Yoga College (GYC), yoga expert and GYC ambassador Ida Pajunen and Jerome Armstrong, the author of the book Calcutta Yoga: Buddha Bose and the Yoga Family of Bishnu Ghosh and Yogananda have expressed concern about certain images and content in the film used without permission and due credit and “in a manner that amounts to copyright infringement”.

The documentary premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and dropped on Netflix on November 20 where it is currently available.

A demand letter (which The Hindu has a copy of) dated November 29, to Thomas Benski, CEO and founder of producer Pulse Films, by patents and trademark attorney Martha Engel, on behalf of GYC, Panjunen and Armstrong, states that no attribution to the books is to be found anywhere in the film. A copy of the letter has also been sent to Netflix.

The “Yoga Cure” pamphlet, that GYC has rights to, “appears to be copied in its entirety at about 70:09 [minutes] in the Bikram Film”, the letter states. The pamphlet was written in 1961 by Bishnu Charan Ghosh, the founder of the school and Choudhury’s hatha yoga guru. GYC is currently owned and operated by Shantanu Mitra and his wife Muktamala Ghosh, who is the sole daughter of Bishwanath, the only surviving son of Bishnu Ghosh. “Nowhere in the film, including its credits, is there any acknowledgement or attestation provided of the source and ownership of these images,” the letter states.

Additionally, several images throughout the film appear to be taken directly from Mr Armstrong’s book. “Mr Armstrong owns U.S. Copyright Registration No. TX0008595848 for the book, which was published in 2018. Images from the book appear at least at about 11:11, 11:28, 12:02, 12:52, 68:36, 69:19 and 69:40 of the film,” the letter states. In addition to the images, there are key historical facts in the Bikram film from research found only in the Calcutta Yoga book; however, no attribution to the book or to Mr Armstrong is found anywhere in the film, says the letter.

It also points out that “… it seems that the misuse of the intellectual property rights of others is not constrained to this material. We are aware that there are others who have similar concerns about the unpermitted use of their photos and videos in the Bikram film”.

The demand letter states that they would like to reach a quick and amicable resolution regarding the wilful use of copyrighted material without permission and requests Pulse Films to immediately remove all historical images of GYC and the pages of “Yoga Cure” from the Bikram Film; provide proper attestation for the book “Calcutta Yoga” where the photos are used within the film and also provide acknowledgement of the book; issue a public apology by Pulse Films and producers Eva Orner and Sarah Anthony for this blatant misuse; and compensate GYC, Ms Pajunen and Mr Armstrong for their legal fees related to this matter.

The Hindu emailed Pulse Films, Bikram maker Eva Orner, producer Sarah Anthony and Netflix but is yet to get a response.

Meanwhile, the fugitive guru Choudhury is likely to lead a packaged tour in India titled “Bikram’s Legacy Tour of India 2020”. The tour offers yoga enthusiasts, students and practitioners from all over the world packaged travel over 15 days, from January 20 to February 3, through Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Mumbai and Kolkata.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2020 9:11:54 PM |

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