Bouchat v. Ravens
Court of Appeals of the United States of America
2000, 241 F3d 350
Statement of Facts:
An appeal was brought before the United States Court of Appeals from the United States District Court of Maryland. Frederick E. Bouchat, plaintiff-appellee, initiated the action in the District Court of Maryland seeking for the payment of damages in the amount of $10,000,000. Plaintiff alleges that defendants-appellants Baltimore Ravens, Inc. and the National Football League Properties, Inc. had committed infringement when they appropriated his three different drawings of his original work. He further alleged that he created several drawings during the latter parts of 1995, including an illustration of a shield (hereinafter referred to as his “shield drawing”) (Bouchat v. Ravens, 2000, 241 F3d 350).
The facts of the case further showed that the said drawings were created by Frederick Bouchat, an amateur artist when news about Maryland’s own football team would be formed, based on his favorite possible team name – the Ravens. At this time, Bouchat’s drawings were displayed in the main entrance of the building where he is working as a security guard (Bouchat v. Ravens, 2000, 241 F3d). Thereafter, one of the officials of the Maryland Stadium Authority met with Bouchat and the two began to discuss about his drawings. Fascinated, the said official asked the latter to fax his drawings. They never had the chance to meet or talk to each other following this incident. It was only in August of 1996 when the logo of the Ravens was unveiled which was recognized to be the drawing of Bouchat (Bouchat v. Ravens, 2000, 241 F3d).
In their defense, the defendants allege that they have developed their acts do not constitute infringement as they have developed the shield logo independently. In the same manner, they also questioned Bouchat’s entitlement to copyright infringement as the elements of his drawings lack the requirement of originality (Bouchat v. Ravens, 2000, 241 F3d). Nevertheless, the jury decided in favor of Bouchat, stating that herein defendants, the Baltimore Ravens and the National Football League committed acts of infringement.
The District Court of Maryland initially heard the case. In November of 1998, the jury rendered a decision in favor of the plaintiff but only with respect to his shield drawing. This decision prompted the defendants to file alternative Motions for Judgment and New Trial. The defendants anchor these motions on the failure of the plaintiff to prove that they had access to the drawings of Bouchat. The defendants further denied that they have actually received the faxed drawings. In this sense, no compelling evidence exists with respect to their appropriation of Bouchat’s work. Aside from this, the defendants also questioned the appropriateness of protecting the work at hand, contending that it is not copyrightable under the law. The defendants contend that the work is not entitled to protection as it contains items from the public domain.
1. Whether or not the issue of access is material in deciding the case of infringement
2. Whether or not Bouchat’s drawing qualify for copyright protection
The Court affirmed the decision of the District Court of Maryland.
The Court of Appeals state that under the law, Bouchat’s drawings indeed qualify for copyright protection. Thus, based on the Strikingly Similar doctrine, the issue of access is immaterial in this case of infringement.
Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:
In deciding the case, the Court relied extensively on Copyright Law, most especially with respect to the elements of copyright protection. In addition, the Court also upholds the strikingly similar doctrine upheld in the case of Gaste.
The court, in ruling in favor of Bouchat states that the strikingly similar doctrine as first introduced in the case of Gaste does away with the issue of access. Basically, the strikingly similar doctrine permits an inference of access whenever two works are similar to one another.
Essentially, this strikingly similar doctrine negates the possibility of independent creation. As mentioned in a prior case, such striking similarity can lead one to believe that a work has indeed been copied from another. In this particular case, while it is true that the plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence in relation to the defendants’ access of his drawings, the striking similarity between his works and the logo of the Ravens and the National Football League sufficiently shows copyright infringement.
Given the aforementioned, the court further states that it is of no moment that Bouchat did not prove that Modell (the official of the Ravens) actually saw the drawings. Instead, he was required to prove that the former was merely given the opportunity to view them. Most importantly, Bouchat’s act of transmitting a copy of his drawings to the officials of the Ravens is more than hypothetical. Verily, these acts support the Ravens’ infringement of Bouchat’s works.
The court likewise upheld the fact that Bouchat’s drawing qualifies for copyright protection. As mentioned, the defendants argue that the drawings of Bouchat do not qualify for protection because it does not contain original elements. According to the court, while it is true that the drawings of Bouchat contain items of the public domain that are not usually covered by copyright protection, the manner by which they are arranged and grouped made the entire work original. This regrouping then becomes the subject of copyright protection.
No concurring/dissenting opinions have been included in the decision of the court.