alan little’s weblog


1st June 2006 permanent link

Big news in the small pond of the Ashtanga Yoga web at the moment is that somebody has posted extracts of a film made in 1938 of famous yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar and his teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharya on youtube.

This film is a fascinating historical yoga document showing two of the last century’s greatest yoga masters in their prime. It’s well worth any serious yoga student’s time. Its quite well known and widely available from Iyengar Yoga centres all over the world. And, I suppose, if these clips make more people aware of it so that they go out and buy and watch the whole thing, that will be good. I do find myself wondering, though, whether I’m the only person who’s concerned about the asteya aspect.

Asteya is one of the yamas. Yamas, often translated as “observances”, are the first of the eight “limbs” of classical yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras. They concern basic precepts for how a yogi should live a morally acceptable life. Asteya is yama number three, and is usually translated into English as “non-stealing”. I take that to imply a broad interpretation of “not stealing”, possibly closely related to the Buddhist concept of Right Livelihood. So I take it to cover things like making an honest attempt to ensure my clients and employers get value for money. And not posting other peoples’ copyright material on the internet.

The guy who posted the clips is of the opinion that “the film is so old that any claim to copyright has expired”. I doubt if he knows what he’s talking about. I admit my legally-purchased copy of the video doesn’t carry any kind of copyright statement, and I Am Not A Copyright Lawyer – but from what I’ve read I understand that copyright at least for written materials is a number of years after the death of the author. I don’t know if that’s the same for film or if BKS Iyengar would count as the “author”, but if he does, he isn’t even slightly dead. Even if the content itself isn’t copyright, I’m pretty sure the particular physical manifestation of it in the form of the VHS videos sold by various Iyengar Yoga Institutes worldwide would be – so unless the guy on youtube either has the permission of the video’s publisher, or (unlikely) is using the original film reels with their currrent owner’s permission, I would be quite surprised if he’s as clean as he thinks he is.

It’s not like the video is difficult to get hold of once you know it exists. American (NTSC) and European (PAL) versions are available at the Iyengar Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and Maida Vale, London. Five of the top ten links for a google search on “1938 Iyengar video” are online shops where you can buy it in the States, England and Australia (San Francisco and Maida Vale are links nos. 2 & 4)

(How do I square my concern about this particular copyright grey area, with the fact that I am a regular user of legal-only-in-Russia music download service By not claiming to be completely consistent or in any way perfect, that’s how)

UPDATE: my comment on this issue on ashtanga news kicked off an interesting discussion on whether, and under what country’s law, footage filmed in India in 1938 may or may not still be copyright. I do remember reading something about by whom and it what circumstances this film was made; I think it was in Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance, but as I don't have the book I can’t check.

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