(CN) - The first "Flying B" logo of the Baltimore Ravens can still appear in documentaries about the team without reviving old copyright claims, the 4th Circuit ruled.
On Nov. 5, 1995, the owner of the Cleveland Browns announced that the National Football League franchise was relocating to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Rechristened as the Ravens, the team next looked for a logo.
Before the team's inaugural season, Balitmore-based amateur artist Frederick Bouchat proposed a logo that featured a flying "B" on a shield with wings extending from either side.
One month later, the Ravens unveiled the "Flying B" logo as its symbol, featuring a gold shield with a winged purple "B" at the center.
Finding that the image bore a strong resemblance to his creation, Bouchat accused the team of stealing his idea. A jury ruled in his favor but refused to award him the $10 million he requested.
In 1998, the team changed its logo to the profile of a purple raven with a gold "B."
In an ongoing quest for damages, Bouchat sought to prevent the team from using the Flying B logo in documentary videos and photographs on the NFL Network, NFL.com, and other websites, as well as in displays at the Raven's stadium.
A federal judge found that such displays constitute fair use, however, and the 4th Circuit affirmed Tuesday.
"The uses here were not only transformative, but also - take your pick - fleeting, incidental, de minimis, innocuous," Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the three-judge panel.
A transformative use is one that finds a different purpose from the original material in dispute.
Bouchat said both Flying Bs have the same purpose - identifying Ravens players - but the court disagreed.
The logo "initially served as the brand symbol for the team, its on-field identifier, and the principal thrust of its promotional efforts," Wilkinson wrote. "None of the videos use the logo to serve the same purpose it once did. Instead, these videos used the Flying B as part of the historical record to tell stories of past drafts, major events in Ravens history, and player careers. Similarly, the team uses the logo in its stadium only for a historical display documenting important events in the team's history. In the display, the Flying B occurs only incidentally in photos of players in their uniforms.
"If these uses failed to qualify as fair, a host of perfectly benign and valuable expressive works would be subject to lawsuits," the 40-page judgment continues.
"That in turn would discourage the makers of all sorts of historical documentaries and displays, and would deplete society's fund of informative speech."