Appeals court rules game films showing NFL team’s 1st logo violates artist’s copyright

By Larry Odell, AP
Thursday, September 2, 2010

Court rules against Ravens in logo dispute

RICHMOND, Va. — An amateur artist who designed the original logo used by the Baltimore Ravens won a partial victory Thursday when a federal appeals court ruled the commercial use of game and highlight films from the Ravens’ first three seasons violates his copyright.

In a divided ruling, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Baltimore federal judge’s ruling that films depicting the “Flying B” logo on Ravens uniforms and on the football field are essentially historical and are a “fair use” under copyright law.

The court sent the case back to Senior U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis to determine whether an injunction is appropriate.

However, the panel agreed with Garbis that the Ravens can continue to use the logo in a team history display in the lobby of their Owings Mills, Md., headquarters. That is a noncommercial use of the logo akin to a museum exhibit that is permissible under trademark law, the court said.

The decision on the films is a win for amateur artist Frederick Bouchat, whose drawing of a shield with the letter B in the middle, flanked by wings, was the model for the logo used by the Ravens from 1996 through 1998. A jury ruled in 1998 that the Ravens stole the logo idea from Bouchat, but refused to award damages. Bouchat had sought $10 million.

Bouchat has never received any compensation for the team’s use of his design.

In the case decided Thursday, Bouchat asked the court to prohibit commercial use of the logo. A highlight film played on the stadium video screen before Ravens home games shows the logo on players’ helmets, and the “Flying B” also appears in films that the NFL sells for $50 apiece.

The appeals court rejected the Ravens’ claim that the logo appears in a purely historical context.

“Simply filming football games that include the copyrighted logo does not transform the purpose behind the logo’s use into a historical one,” Judge M. Blane Michael wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Judge Roger Gregory.

Bouchat’s attorney, Howard J. Schulman, said he was pleased that “the heart of the controversy was resolved in our favor” and he hopes Grabis will issue the injunction. If that happens, he said, the Ravens and the NFL would have to negotiate a licensing agreement with Bouchat if they wanted to continue to use the logo.

“The licensing of NFL logos for use in the sale of official team merchandise, in exchange for royalties, is exactly the type of potential market that exists for Bouchat’s copyrighted logo,” Michael wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer said that “through this legal action, Bouchat is attempting to hold the Ravens’ history hostage for ransom.”

“The Ravens and the NFL cannot now change history nor can they reasonably be requested to blot it out,” Niemeyer wrote.

The Ravens could appeal the majority decision to the full appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court. Their attorney, Robert Raskopf, did not immediately return a telephone message.

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