Ravens' latest loss comes in court Suit: A jury finds that the NFL team copied its logo from a local amateur artist.

November 04, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF Staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

A federal jury found yesterday that the Baltimore Ravens copied their team logo from a Pigtown amateur artist who submitted his drawings hoping to get an autographed helmet, but who might get more than $10 million because of copyright infringement.

"All I wanted was a little recognition," said the artist, Frederick E. Bouchat, a 33-year-old security guard who draws in his spare time. "It was never about the money. If they came to me now, I'd probably still take the autographed helmet."

But his lawsuit seeks much more -- $10 million in damages and whatever profits the football team has made from use of his design. That could mean any money made from selling any hat, T-shirt, football or other souvenir that has the winged logo.

The amount he will receive will be determined at a later hearing before a separate jury.

Lawyers for the Ravens and the National Football League, who had argued throughout the four-week trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that the logo was theirs, are sticking to that claim and say they will file appeals that might take years to resolve.

Ravens owner Art Modell said last night that "We're not worried" about the verdict.

"I'm very confident it will be reversed on appeal," he said.

The jury did not find that the Ravens stole Bouchat's drawings. Instead, it found that Bouchat's sketches ended up in the team's hands during a hectic time shortly after it moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in late 1995 and that logo designers for the NFL copied them.

"Mr. Bouchat faxed his sketches over and, somehow, they ended up in the creative pipeline," said Howard J. Schulman, Bouchat's attorney. "His drawings got into the stream of documents that were flowing through a hectic office, and before long their origins were forgotten."

The jury of seven men and five women saw truth in Schulman's scenario. In their verdict, the jurors said evidence showed Bouchat had faxed his proposed logo to the Maryland Stadium Authority in April 1996 -- two months before the Ravens unveiled the official logo.

Jurors also found that "the Ravens' shield logo is so strikingly similar to [Bouchat's] drawing that there is no reasonable possibility of independent creation" and that a team of NFL designers "copied in substantial part" from the Bouchat sketch.

Chris Widmaier, an NFL spokesman, vehemently denied the jury's assertions last night and said attorneys for the team and the league will be asking a federal judge in three weeks to set aside the verdict.

"I can only reiterate that the Baltimore Ravens logo was independently created by the NFL Properties design team without any outside input or influence," Widmaier said. "The people who designed the logo for us never handled this other logo, nor did they see this other logo."

How much money the team could lose if the verdict is upheld is unclear. Lawyers from both sides refused to speculate how much money the logo has earned the Ravens.

The amount would be determined later by an accounting process done by order of a judge.

Under federal copyright law, anyone whose copyright is violated is entitled to recover "any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement. In establishing the infringer's profits, the copyright owner is required to present proof only of the infringer's gross revenue."

Key to Bouchat's case in federal court was witness testimony from several people who said they saw his winged logo in December 1995 -- six months before the Ravens unveiled their team insignia.

The drawings are nearly identical but for a few cosmetic changes.

Bouchat works as a security guard at a downtown state office building that houses the Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation and the Maryland Insurance Administration. During his time at his guard station, he often showed employees in the building his many drawings, witnesses testified.

Typically, Bouchat drew comic book characters, such as Batman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and Godzilla, as evidenced by his drawings submitted in court papers. But in late 1995, he began drawing sketches for Baltimore's new football team, which he hoped would be called the Ravens.

Disputed fax

Bouchat said he faxed several sketches to Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Moag, whom he had recently met and who he thought would be able to forward his sketches to the team. But Moag said he doesn't remember any such fax coming through, and because Bouchat did not save the fax receipt from the transmission, there was no hard evidence that he sent the drawings.

That left an important part of the case up to witnesses who could say whether or not they'd seen the drawings before the Ravens had published the logo.

Among the people who saw Bouchat's drawings was Jan Drabek, a longtime manager in the licensing and regulation department. Drabek testified that he had seen Bouchat's logo prior to June 1996, when a newspaper article showed the look of the Ravens' new team logo.

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