No, You Can't Copyright A Hookah

from the lessons-in-copyright dept

Thanks to the nature of "ownership society" and the way copyright maximalists have convinced so many people that every concept and idea should be "property" that is "owned" by someone, you get all sorts of bizarre copyright lawsuits thrown about. Here's just one recent example. Two California Hookah makers got into a legal dispute after one accused the other of copyright infringement, for copying the shape of a hookah water container, as seen in the following image:
Thankfully, both a district court and now an appeals court have explained to (you can't make this stuff up) "Inhale, Inc." that you can't copyright a hookah's shape. The courts found that the shape is utilitarian, not a form of expression, and thus not protectable under copyright.
The shape of a container is not independent of a container's utilitarian function--to hold the contents within its shape--because the shape accomplishes the function. The district court correctly concluded that the shape of Inhale's hookah water container is not copyrightable.
Not only did the two courts both toss the lawsuit, but they've awarded attorneys' fees to the defendant, Starbuzz, for facing such a frivolous suit.

Of course, almost anyone who's studied the basics of copyright would have known exactly how all of this would work out, leaving you with the simple question of wondering just what Inhale Inc.'s lawyers were smoking when they let the company move forward with the case.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:30pm

    Wow! A new LOW in importance! Marijuana Mike digs deeper!

    When will his unbroken decline from the high of "Streisand Effect" end? It's like watching premature dementia set in.

    Masnicking: daily spurts of short and trivial traffic-generating items.

    11:30:04[m-901-4]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:35pm

    small reminder: the MPAA and RIAA once said they actively support child pornography and view it as (to quote them directly) "a good thing" because it allows them to attack piracy from a new angle....

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:39pm

    Speaking as an Arab the middle eastern culture has created a lot of art and culture and the Arabs, as far as I know, have never really been that big on Copyright. They created lots of art and designs without copyright. I find it a disgrace that someone would then try to copyright a hooka. Art and culture will live on, and will even be better off, without copywrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:41pm

    Re:

    I believe you but would like a link to refer to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    memphislimsan, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Wow! A new LOW in importance! Marijuana Mike digs deeper!

    Hey dummy, Hookahs are used for tobacco products. Bongs are for weed. Why do you post here? Everyone hates you and you aren't changing anyone's mind. You must lead a sad, pathetic existence if trolling this site is so important to you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Namel3ss (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:43pm

    Now taking bets on how long before "Inhale Inc." files for bankruptcy to avoid paying the attorneys' fees award...

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    The Prick, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 3:51pm

    Actually...

    I find this interesting. Bravo!

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:01pm

    brings a new dimension to the term "Hookahs and Smack"

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Zem, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Clearly Inhale's lawyers were seduced by the shape. Hoping that when they rubbed it a genie would appear and grant their wishes. Unfortunately for them, they dreamed the wrong dreamed and rubbed the wrong thing.

     

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  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re:

    out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:27pm

    Re:

    EVERY culture created a lot of art and design without copyright until some idiots decided to burden creation with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:30pm

    Re: Re:

    I was going to dig it up for you, but then thought that perhaps that's not a search term I should use from my work computer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    tupe, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Wow! A new LOW in importance! Marijuana Mike digs deeper!

    Jesus Christ dude. You are one obsessive stalker on techdirt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:37pm

    If only they'd patented the shape instead I'm sure it would have been a different result. Round corners anyone?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:07pm

    Re:

    A design patent would have certainly helped. In this case copyright was weak and ultimately a loser, not because the container is not within a class for which copyright is a possibility, but because no matter the shape and its originality, in the final analysis it is a utilitarian object and there is no way for whatever makes it an original work to be separated so as to have an existence separate and apart from the container qua container.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:22pm

    Re: Wow! A new LOW in importance! Marijuana Mike digs deeper!

    I've got it! OOTB is Barbara Streisand!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:44pm

    Whoops!

    I totally misread that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 4:29am

    But unfortunately Starbuzz will now be obliterated by a trademark suit from Starbucks.

     

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  19.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 6:14am

    You can't copyright a Hookah

    But you can patent it if it has rounded corners.

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 9:07am

    Re: You can't copyright a Hookah

    Equally, it should be possible to get a design patent on the hookah.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    John85851 (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    But the lawyer still gets paid

    Your last sentence says it all. Who, exactly, are the lawyers who are taking cases like these? I guess this really does show that some lawyers will take their client's money even if there's no basis for the case.
    And who pays when the plantiff loses? Does this come out of the fee the client paid their lawyer? Or is Inhale, Inc stuck with the bill for their lawyer AND they have to pay the defendants?

    I don't know if you can blame the lawyer for this. After all, I'm sure he's in the same situation as doctors: the client comes to them with instructions and the statement "if you don't help me, I'll find someone who will". It takes a pretty ethical lawyer to turn down business just because he knows he can't win.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jan 15th, 2014 @ 4:08pm

    But you CAN walk like an Egyptian.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    btrussell (profile), Jan 16th, 2014 @ 2:53am

    I bet they inhale.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 10:19am

    Re: Re: Re:

    out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is inhaled.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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