The Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), joined the International Documentary Association (IDA) and the WGBH Educational Foundation in an amicus brief (PDF) prepared by Anthony Falzone at the Stanford Fair Use Project, asking for the full Fourth Circuit to rehear the case of Bouchat v. Ravens and reconsider the panel’s flawed fair use reasoning.
The case centers around a logo used from 1996 to 1998 by the Baltimore Ravens, which was later determined to infringe Frederick E. Bouchat’s copyrights. Bouchat sued and won, and the team has used a new logo since 1999. Bouchat also sued the Ravens and the NFL and asked the court for nothing less than the right to suppress every depiction of his logo, including every depiction of the Baltimore Ravens in uniforms bearing the logo from 1996 to 1998. The district court denied his request, saying these historical depictions were fair use. On appeal, however, a panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court.
Falzone’s excellent amicus brief reminds the court that there is overwhelming precedent to support the Ravens’ claim of fair use. The brief makes several important points, but perhaps the most important point is that for-profit use is not fatal to a fair use claim.
The importance of this decision could be quite significant. The Supreme Court has said that fair use is an essential First Amendment protection because it ensures that the copyright monopoly is not allowed to become a limitation on vital freedoms of expression. If courts decline to apply fair use to protect something as fundamental as the right to document historical facts, they upset the constitutional balance in copyright law. The “exclusive rights” of authors and inventors were never meant to give them a license to censor history.