NFL and the Raven’s Flying B Logo

We have been writing about The Fair Use Doctrine, but when can you use a sports logo and when can’t you?

In the history of this case, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL had been site in the Fourth Circuit for infringing on the copyright of the flying B” logo, however they continued to use it.

The Fair Use Doctrine is defense under the following elements,

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.

2. The nature of the copyrighted work.

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

If a court finds you infringing a copyright, you must stop using it. That is unless you can use The Fair Use Doctrine as a defense.

The logo made its way onto the helmets of the Ravens and into NFL films and Bouchat sued the Ravens and the NFL for the infringement of the mark in the film in 1996 for not obtaining a license granted for other use.

Fredrick Bouchat drew a “Flying B” logo in 1995 for the logo of the Baltimore Ravens.  He copyrighted the drawing and sent the logo to the Maryland Stadium Authority for possible use requesting only a credit for recognition and an autographed helmet.  The NFL and the Ravens contended that they could use the logo the Flying B under the Fair Use Doctrine.

The Fair Use Defense did not work.

  1. The courts ruled that the use was “particularly indefensible” because the defendants exploited the original infringement to their commercial advantage.
  2. The entire copyright was infringed – this means that the entire Flying B was used versus under The Fair Use Doctrine – one line, picture or quote of the entire copyright and since it was “commercial” it did not fit into any reason of using the entirety for public education.
  3. The court characterized the work as a “creative drawing” and therefore number 2 above, became the single most important element in deciding with the plaintiff.
  4. The court said that the earlier case, which was won by plaintiff Bouchat was evidence that the mark was protected under copyright and the plaintiff has the right to demand a licensing fee for the use of the Flying B.

This case tells us that trademark licenses are specific.  You cannot license a logo for a helmet and use it for a film.  In this case it was used for the introduction of the Raven season in NFL films, not in the news or broadcasted for public information pr education.  This was what the NFL claimed was their right in using the logo outside of just the helmet.

If you are using a trademark for commercial gain, you need to be aware that if you are infringing on another’s mark, they could be entitled to some portion of your commercial gain if they sue you in court.

This case is reported as “settled.”