NFL, Ravens can use old logo in historical videos, exhibits, court rules

A federal appeals court upheld a decision Tuesday that the NFL and Ravens could use their former "Flying B" logo to depict the team's history, lyrically defending the concept of fair use in copyright law in the process.

The logo, which features a winged gold shield with the letter B on it, is the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by Frederick E. Bouchat, who has been credited in court as its original designer.

But Bouchat has had less luck turning his legal victories into payouts and has continued to sue. In the latest case he argued that the NFL and Ravens infringed his copyright in historical videos and an exhibit at the M&T Bank Stadium.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in an opinion that fair use "protects filmmakers and documentarians from the inevitable chilling effects of allowing an artist too much control over the dissemination of his or her work for historical purposes,"

"Were we to require those wishing to produce films and documentaries to receive permission from copyright holders for fleeting factual uses of their works, we would allow those copyright holders to exert enormous influence over new depictions of historical subjects and events."

A federal judge in Baltimore had earlier thrown out the case, and on Tuesday a panel of appeals court judges agreed. The opinion seized on the unlikely subject matter of videos about the Ravens' best and worst draft picks and the career of Ray Lewis as a vehicle to defend fair use, which offers a way for people to build or comment on copyrighted works.

"Just as it would have been a terrible shame to prevent Edward Hopper from painting the "Esso" sign in his masterful Portrait of Orleans so too would it be a mistake to prevent the NFL from using the Flying B logo to create new protected works," Wilkinson wrote.

"The NFL may not arouse sympathies in the way that a revered artist does, but the consequences of this case reach far beyond its facts. Society's interest in ensuring the creation of transformative works incidentally utilizing copyrighted material is legitimate no matter who the defendant may be."

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