The designer of the Baltimore Ravens’ original “Flying B” logo sued the National Football League’s television network and website Thursday, saying they violated his copyright in the symbol during televised and online tributes to the team’s 1996 draft class and star linebacker Ray Lewis.
Frederick E. Bouchat’s copyright infringement suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The named defendants are National Football League Enterprises LLC and NFL Network Services LLC, both NFL properties based in New York.
“The fat guy keeps ripping the little guy off,” Bouchat’s attorney, Howard J. Schulman, said of the NFL’s attitude toward his client after the suit was filed. “We can put it in more polite terms like copyright infringement.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an email late Thursday afternoon that “we have not reviewed the filing and do not have a comment at this time.”
The lawsuit alleges that since September 2007, the defendants have made available on their NFL Network and nfl.com website a film segment titled “Top Ten Draft Classes: 1996 Ravens” in which the logo is “publicly displayed.” The film has been viewed at least 66,293 times on the website, the lawsuit states.
The filing also alleges the network has broadcast a film in which the logo appears, “Sound Fx: Ray Lewis,” on multiple occasions since Sept. 10, 2010.
The infringement was “willful and purposeful” because the defendants had notice of Bouchat’s holding of the copyright from his prior litigation to protect it, Schulman stated in the complaint.
In discussing the lawsuit, Schulman called it ironic that the NFL would be so cavalier about its use of a copyrighted logo.
“They are one of the most zealous defenders of their intellectual property,” said Schulman. Try to sell a hat or other item with their copyright-protected logo, and “they’ll come after you,” he added.
Schulman said Bouchat neither knew nor had reason to know of the alleged infringement on the website until Jan. 24, 2012, when someone saw it and called it to his attention. Similarly, Bouchat did not know of the use of the logo in the Ray Lewis film until May 14, 2012, the attorney added.
Schulman rejected the contention that he or Bouchat must have known about the alleged infringements earlier, as they have presumably watched Ravens-themed broadcasts to protect the copyright.
A copyright holder is under no obligation to ferret out violations, Schulman said.
“Our job is not to be a policeman,” he added. “You have to assume that they are going to act in accord with the law.”
Under the statute of limitations, copyright holders can collect damages for infringements going back three years even if they began earlier, said Schulman, of Schulman & Kaufman LLC in Baltimore.
The current complaint marks the fifth copyright infringement suit Schulman has filed on Bouchat’s behalf in the past 15 years.
Bouchat has also sued Electronic Arts Inc., the maker of the Madden NFL video game franchise, and merchandisers who use the logo.
The team changed its logo in 1998, after a jury found it infringed on a sketch Bouchat had faxed to the team in 1996. With his sketch, Bouchat asked for a helmet if the team used his design.
The infringement decision was appealed and affirmed before another jury was asked to assess damages, and awarded Bouchat nothing.