SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An Indian humanitarian organization failed to show that it copyrighted the basic breathing and relaxation exercises posted by a critical anonymous blogger, a federal judge ruled.
Identified only as “Skywalker,” the blogger is allegedly a former teacher for the Art of Living Foundation who now runs the blog “Beyond the Art of Living.”
Spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, who bears no relation to the renowned sitarist of the same name, founded the international nonprofit in 1981.
Skywalker’s blog allegedly claims that the Shankar’s methods cause physical harm to participants and that the foundation inflicts spiritual abuse on its members. Another critical blog is penned by “Klim.”
The foundation accused both of copyright infringement and exposing its trade secrets, but only Skywalker posted the text of the Breathe Water Sound Manual, a guide used to train teachers in the breathing exercises touted by Shankar.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled Tuesday that the Art of Living Foundation in India produced no evidence that it ever received transfer of the copyright, as it claimed. Koh said the foundation’s “complete failure of proof” as to its ownership of the manual “renders all other facts immaterial.”
“The court is not persuaded by plaintiff’s attempt to rationalize its failure to produce evidence of either a written assignment or a written confirmatory memorandum, as is statutorily required to establish copyright ownership by way of transfer,” Koh wrote. “Plaintiff’s failure to come forward with evidence of a written assignment or of an oral assignment later confirmed in writing raises the inference that such evidence simply does not exist.”
“In sum, plaintiff has failed to put forth admissible evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff either authored the Breathe Water Sound Manual or was assigned the rights to it,” Koh added. “Plaintiff has not made a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its copyright infringement claim, and summary judgment must be granted in defendants’ favor.”
The foundation can pursue its trade secrets claim, however, since Koh rejected the bloggers’ motion under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute.
“Plaintiff has shown that its trade secret misappropriation claim has at least ‘minimal merit’ sufficient to overcome this anti-SLAPP motion, even if plaintiff may ultimately lose at trial after defendants have the benefit of further discovery,” she wrote.
While the bloggers argued that the foundation’s materials contained basic, well-known concepts of Hindu mysticism, Koh sided with the foundation in its argument that its teaching methods and processes are trade secrets.
“Although this evidence is scant at best, defendants have not presented evidence that clearly defeats Plaintiff’s assertion that its combination of teaching methods and processes are unique and novel,” Koh said.