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.

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Comments on “No, You Can't Copyright A Hookah”

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memphislimsan says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

John85851 (profile) says:

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.

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