Property, intangible

a blog about ownership of intellectual property rights and its licensing

The Yankees Still Own Their Logo

Last April there was an interesting complaint filed (blogged here) by a woman who claimed that her uncle, Kenneth Timur, now deceased, had designed the New York Yankees logo in 1936 but hadn’t been compensated for it. The plaintiff’s proof of authorship was the fact that her uncle, when he revised the logo in 1952, put “1P089” instead of “1908” on the top of the logo, thus:

 As you might have guessed, the complaint was kicked six ways to Sunday. First, there was no diversity jurisdiction and no federal subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint alleged infringement of a common law copyright, which is a claim under state law, not federal.

But the court, after formally dismissing the case on jurisdictional grounds, had just gotten started:

Moreover, if the Court were to have jurisdiction over this matter, it would find that Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint utterly fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. All of Plaintiff’s non-copyright claims have been barred by the applicable statutes of limitation for over half a century. Plaintiff’s argument that equitable estoppel applies to toll the statutes of limitation because the Yankees somehow concealed the Logo’s provenance from the Logo’s own creator is laughable.
Ouch.  But the court didn’t stop there, also finding that section 301 of the Copyright Act of 1976 expressly preempts any common law copyright claim.  Next up, in 1936 there was only a common law copyright for unpublished works (published works would have fallen under the Copyright Act of 1909), but a theory that the work was unpublished was inconsistent with the statements in the complaint that the Yankees commissioned the logo, Timur transferred the logo to the Yankees, and the Yankees published the logo as part of the Yankees uniform.

The court didn’t even stop there, opining on the outcome of the plaintiff’s claim for infringement of a published work that wasn’t made. Any infringement claim fails here too; if the work had been published under the Copyright Act of 1909, even if registered and renewed (it wasn’t), the copyright would have expired in 1992.

All that in nine pages in Courier New, double-spaced (okay, a one-sentence carryover and signature on the tenth page).  About six solid bases for dismissal but hope springs eternal; the plaintiff has appealed.

Buday v. New York Yankees Partnership, No. 1:11-cv-02628-DAB (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2011).

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