This guy got screwed. We can all agree on that, right? Frederick Bouchat designed a "Flying B" logo, faxed it to the Baltimore Ravens offices, and when the franchise began play, they used a logo that is pretty much indistinguishable from his design. If you've heard about this before, it's because he has sued. Repeatedly.
Bouchat actually won, but was awarded only nominal damages. He's made multiple trips to the Fourth Circuit and during the last trip, he prevailed on claims that the team's in-stadium videos, which employed the "Flying B" logo, were not fair use. This time, he's upset about fleeting views of the logo in archival videos and pictures. (The team switched to its current raven profile logo in 1998.)
And this time, he loses, because 10 seconds of less of footage in a documentary, or in a picture documenting the history of a team, is fair use.
Unlike the prior trips to the Fourth Circuit, where the logo "initially served as the brand symbol for the team, its on-field identifier, and the principal thrust of its promotional efforts ... [n]one of the videos use the logo to serve the same purpose it once did. Instead, ... these videos used the Flying B as part of the historical record to tell stories of past drafts, major events in Ravens history, and player careers. Similarly, the team uses the logo in its stadium only for a historical display documenting important events in the team's history. In the display, the Flying B occurs only incidentally in photos of players in their uniforms."
The "transformative" use here is the historical/documentary nature of the use. In the previous instances of infringement, the logo was used as a brand identifier. Here, it is shown, ever so briefly, as part of multiple documentaries and exhibitions about the team's history, and even then, the logo is barely noticeable in most contexts.
The court also emphasized the frequency with which the logo appeared in the videos at issue -- typically mere fractions of a second, and that one would have to be looking for the logo specifically to notice it. To compare with the most recent case, where the logo was used repeatedly in season-in-review highlight films, instead, here, fleeting incidental glances of the logo were shown on archival footage of practices and game highlights.
"The uses here were not only transformative, but also -- take your pick -- fleeting, incidental, de minimis, innocuous," the court concluded, before affirming the district court's finding of fair use.
- Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens - "Bouchat V" (Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Defendant Can't Explain Bootlegged Blueprints, Still Wins (FindLaw's U.S. Fourth Circuit Blog)
- If The Claim is Precluded, Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace (FindLaw's U.S. Fourth Circuit Blog)