Local Artist Says Ravens And NFL Infringe Upon Copyrighted Design
By Tim Richardson
When the Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore, local football fans were overjoyed. That excitement grew as the new franchise assumed the name Ravens and unveiled its logo and uniforms at a public ceremony in downtown Baltimore. But one Baltimore resident was shocked when he saw the team's mark, and has been involved in a number of lawsuits surrounding that initial logo for the past 16 years. The saga now has another chapter.
Frederick Bouchat, an artist who has argued for years that he designed the Ravens' original "Flying B" logo, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Ravens. He claims that the team has committed another copyright infringement by displaying photographs at M&T Bank Stadium that include his logo design, which features a shield with the letter "B" in the middle and flanked by wings.
According to the suit, the Ravens have several large photographs on the club level that prominently feature Bouchat's design. The pictures show former Ravens, including Vinny Testaverde, Jonathan Ogden and Jermaine Lewis, wearing items with the original "Flying B" logo.
According to court documents provided by Howard J. Schulman, Bouchat’s attorney, Eugene Conti, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, arranged for Bouchat to meet Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag, who was instrumental in negotiating the team's arrival in Baltimore.
The meeting occurred March 28, 1996, the day before the joint announcement from the team and the MSA that the franchise would be called the Ravens. The documents also state Bouchat was asked during that meeting to send his drawings to the office of Moag, who would refer them to the Ravens.
In 1998, a jury ruled that the Ravens used a strikingly similar logo design from 1996-98 and found the team and the National Football League liable for infringing upon Bouchat's copyrights. Bouchat also sought damages in the amount of $10 million, but the jury refused to award any compensation. The team changed its logo in 1998.
Schulman said it has been a tough situation for his client.
"He has been discouraged by the entire matter, discouraged by the court," Schulman said. "He feels betrayed by his hometown team."
When reached for comment, Ravens spokesperson Patrick Gleason wrote in an e-mail that the team "was aware of the matter, but will withhold comment at this time, as it is now in litigation."
In addition to the aforementioned suits, Schulman provided a timeline showing he had also filed complaints on behalf of Bouchat against Electronic Arts Inc. and NFL Properties Oct. 7, 2011, as well as NFL Enterprise and NFL Network Services May 17, 2012.
According to the suit against Electronic Arts Inc., the video-game maker used the Bouchat-copyrighted design on retro uniforms in its games, such as Madden NFL 11. The logo appears as part of an option that lets players create historically accurate football teams in the game.
Cockeysville-based attorney Sam Gompers specializes in intellectual property law. He said the involvement of Electronic Arts presented a new element, because they hadn't been a part of any suits in the past and are a commercial enterprise whose purpose is to make money.
"You've got the weight of the previous ruling [on damages] going against Bouchat," said Gompers. "But the nature of this suit is slightly different than before. The court will have to define how much presence the 'Flying B' logo has in that game. That finding could result in Bouchat being worthy of damages."
The lawsuit against the NFL alleges that the league aired a film segment entitled "Top Ten Draft Classes: 1996 Baltimore Ravens" on the NFL Network and NFL.com in which the logo is publicly displayed. According to court documents, the public has viewed the film more than 66,000 times since 2007.
Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice president of corporate communications, declined to comment about the suit.
Gompers said the crux of the argument was what constitutes a historical property vs. copyright ownership? The defendants in each case are citing the logo as a piece of history and open to fair use, meaning permission is not required to use the item in a specific format.
"The decision by the 4th Circuit was not unanimous, and Mr. Bouchat could be seen as trying to preclude anyone from celebrating the historical significance of that initial logo," Gompers said. "In my opinion, the photos at M&T Bank Stadium are presented in more of a historical nature and not being sold for any commercial gain.
"At the same time, what can't be forgotten is that a jury decided that Bouchat held the copyrights to the 'Flying B' design. So it's a very gray area. The Ravens and NFL may have better case for fair use, but not Electronic Arts, considering they are benefited financially."
Schulman said the situation was ironic because of the painstaking lengths the NFL goes to in protecting its intellectual property.
"They are playing by two sets of rules," Schulman said. "One when it's to their advantage, and the other when it doesn't suit them. This case is about fat-cat business people exploiting a little guy's intellectual property while masquerading as scholarly historians."
A copy of the fax sent to the Maryland Stadium Authority shows that Bouchat asked for a letter of recognition and an autographed helmet if the team liked his design and chose to use it as their logo. Now, according to Schulman, his client would still like recognition, but, because things have gone this far, also reasonable compensation for his intellectual property.
Schulman also said that, despite the ongoing litigation, Bouchat is a Ravens football fan.
Posted July 10, 2012