On September 2, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, decided a case that discussed the Historical Use Exception to the Trademark laws. That exception allows a trademark to be used by someone other than the legal owner of it if it is included in an historical work. It is essecually an exception that provides for Fair Use of the trademark.
Specifically, the Court in Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Limited Partnership, et al. –F.3d–, 2010 WL 3440867 (C.A.4 (Md.)) held that the Ravens and the NFL did not establish fair use of the Flying B logo in the highlight films sold by the NFL and the highlight film played during the Ravens’ home football games.  The Court analyzed the four statutory factors of fair use as listed in 17 U.S.C.§ 107, which are:  (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a 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; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.  Although the Court considered all four factors, it primarily analyzed the first factor, purpose and character of the use, and defendants’ alleged defense of historical use of the logo.  The Court stated:

There is no transformative purpose behind the depiction of the Flying B logo in the highlight films.  The use of the logo in the films serves the same purpose that it did when defendants first infringed Bouchat’s copyrighted Shield logo design: the Flying B logo identifies the football player wearing it with the Baltimore Ravens.  The simple act of filming the game in which the copyrighted work was displayed did not add something new to the logo.  It did not alter the logo with new expression, meaning or message.  The films capture the logo as it originally appeared, and the logo remains a symbol identifying the Ravens.  While the films no doubt add to the historical record of Ravens play, the use of the logo in those films simply fulfilled its purpose of identifying the team.  The logo continues to fulfill that purpose whenever a highlight film is shown.

Id. at 4.

Simply filming football games that include the copyrighted logo does not transform the purpose behind the logo’s use into a historical one.  Defendants point to the dramatic editing, music, and narration in the highlight films in an attempt to show a transformative use for the logo.  But none of these effects transform the purpose behind the display of the logo.  The narrator in the films never comments on the controversy surrounding the use of the Flying B logo. Nor are the films a documentary on the history of the Ravens logo.  Instead, the films simply capture highlights of three Ravens seasons and necessarily portray the Flying B logo as it was actually used to identify the Ravens team.


The Court held that the “Ravens and the NFL originally violated Bouchat’s copyright by using his logo as the Ravens logo. Highlight films that come along later and depict that same use, without transformation, cannot stand as a fair use.”  Id. at 8.

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