Hookah Shape Not Copyrightable: Plaintiff Gets Smoked

On March 10, 2014, in Copyrights, by Brian A. Hall

UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Copyright for Hookah Water Container

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld a District Court’s grant of summary judgment in a copyright infringement case involving a hookah water container.  The Plaintiff, the owner of a copyright registration for the sculptural shape of the water container through which tobacco can be smoked, got smoked in this case.  The Court held that the shape of the hookah was not copyrightable because it was physically and conceptually inseparable from the utilitarian function of the hookah.  Put another way, this Court deemed that it should not have been registered but instead should have received a functionality refusal.

It is worth noting that had the Plaintiff relied upon some particular design, such as the skull and crossbone image on its hookah, it may still warrant copyright protection.  That said, this Defendant did not use any such design, and thus Plaintiff was left to base its claim upon the shape of the hookah alone.

Inhale, Inc. v. Starbuzz Tobacco, Inc., Case No. 12-56331 (9th Cir., Jan. 9, 2014).


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