Heisman Trophy People Sue HeismanWatch For Using Images Of The Trophy And Stating Its Name

from the hail-mary dept

Way back in 2007, we shook our heads sadly as Motion Picture Academy decided that takedowns over past Oscar clips and a lawsuit against a website, OscarWatch.com, would somehow drive more attention to the current year’s Oscar broadcasts because of… reasons? In that case, the MPA was mostly making trademark claims, laughably stating that allowing a site like OscarWatch would confuse the public into thinking that the site was in some way affiliated with the MPA. In actuality, the site was a fan-site that put out analysis of The Oscars and had a nice big disclaimer that it wasn’t associated with the MPA right at the top of its site.

Ten years later, the organization that manages the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award, has decided to one-up the MPA by filing a similar suit against HeismanWatch.com, but also tacking on a copyright claim stating that online depictions of the trophy is violating the copyright on the original artwork that is the trophy itself.

The trophy itself is an original sculptural work entitled to copyright protection, asserts the plaintiff, which has licensing relationships with ESPN and the Collegiate Licensing Company, a division of IMG.

“As owners of the HEISMAN Copyright, the Trust has the exclusive right to (1) reproduce images of the Heisman Trophy® award, (2) publicly display the Heisman Trophy® award; and 3) distribute copies of the Heisman Trophy® award pursuant to Section 106 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106,” states the complaint. “Upon information and belief, Defendants have for years willfully copied, displayed and distributed copies of the Heisman Trophy® award on a consistent and systematic basis, without the Trust’s authorization or consent… Defendants past and continuing copying, transmitting, displaying and distribution of images of the Heisman Trophy® award constitutes a willful, deliberate and ongoing infringement of the Trust’s copyrights, causing irreparable harm and damage to the Trust.”

Let’s tackle these in order. Like OscarWatch, HeismanWatch also has a big fat disclaimer on its homepage that loudly informs visitors it isn’t affiliated with the Heisman Trophy Trust. Between that and the context of the rest of the site (more on that in a minute), it is evident to anyone with a working frontal lobe that there is no association between these two entities. For that reason alone this trademark claim should fail. Furthermore, on the trademark claim, this is clearly nominative fair use. The site is discussing the Heisman Trophy, and thus is using the term to accurately describe the site’s purpose.

On to the copyright claim. What is HeismanWatch? Well, the site is part a podcast repository for the contributors to the site, and part a repository for analytics and predictions for the Heisman race. If that doesn’t fall squarely in the sports journalism category, then nothing does. As such, just as every newspaper in the country is free to reproduce images of the Heisman trophy in its reporting on college football, so too is HeismanWatch. Whatever licensing deals the trust might have in place, the use of images of the trophy by HeismanWatch simply doesn’t violate the copyright of a sculpted work of art. Period.

The only useful function of this lawsuit at all, in fact, is as a litmus test for whichever court will hear it.

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Companies: heisman trophy trust

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Comments on “Heisman Trophy People Sue HeismanWatch For Using Images Of The Trophy And Stating Its Name”

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13 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Journalism

  • and extra class standing points can be earned if you espouse the great leader’s talking points in public. Just take a selfie video of you proclaiming your undying support for the greatest emperor to ever live.

    No Collusion will also work, as will Lock Her Up and Build That Wall.

    Be very careful when using Grab Her Pussy, unless you are in favor of it.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The art of confusion

I am so glad you gave a description of HeismanWatch because as I read the article I was wondering why the hell the Heisman Trophy Trust wasn’t thanking them for creating works of art (timepieces) that could be given to Heisman Trophy winners as an additional accolade. But we find out that no, HeismanWatch is not producing watches. Nor are they giving out trophies. They are talking about sports, specifically those in contention for, who should be in contention for, and those who actually win said Heisman Trophy.

So that takes care of the trademark, now as to the copyright issue, why isn’t the Heisman Trophy Trust suing every newspaper, magazine, TV show, radio program, or other blog that mentions the Heisman Trophy? They are discussing candidates and picks, not producing a clone of the trophy.

morganwick (profile) says:

Re: The art of confusion

I am so glad you gave a description of HeismanWatch because as I read the article I was wondering why the hell the Heisman Trophy Trust wasn’t thanking them for creating works of art (timepieces) that could be given to Heisman Trophy winners as an additional accolade.

That would be an extra benefit and an NCAA violation. The last thing the Heisman Trust wants is to have the NCAA looking down on it for getting its winners actual tangible benefits.

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