Reverse Image of Team Penning Logo Constituted Copyright Infringement

According to federal district judge Xavier Rodriguez of the Western District of Texas (San Antonio Division), the creation and sale of belt buckles featuring a mirror image of a copyright-protected team penning logo constituted copyright infringement.

William C. Spent d/b/a Spent Saddlery & Feeds created a logo of three riders penning three head of cattle. He registered this logo with the United States Copyright Office. Spent later contracted with Award Design Medals, Inc. (Award Design) to create a die and produce a motif featuring Spent’s team penning logo. 

Spent gave Award Design limited rights to use this "team penning logo" to create belt buckles and other products exclusively for Spent. Award Design created the die and included a copyright notice.

"You copied my belt buckle, pardner!"

Unbeknownst to Spent, someone with Award Design created a “mirror image” of Spent’s logo, which also deleted the copyright notice.

Award Design went out of business. A predecessor company to Montana Silversmiths, Inc. purchased certain assets of Award Design, including the mirror image of Spent’s logo that did not include the copyright notice. Montana Silversmiths sold approximately 1,100 products featuring the mirror image of Spent's logo.

Spent sued Montana Silversmiths and Award Design for copyright infringement, and moved for summary judgment on his claims.

The court granted Spent’s motion for summary judgment against both defendants in part, holding that both engaged in copyright infringement. According to Judge Rodriguez,

Award Design does not contest that it engaged in copyright infringement. Although Montana Silversmiths, Inc. argues that it believed itself to be a valid owner of the Team Penning logo, this is not a defense to the copyright infringement claim, although this argument is relevant to the issue of willfulness.”

The court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the copyright infringement was willful. Thus, the court held that to the extent Spent was alleging that the defendants “willfully” engaged in copyright infringement, Spent’s motion for summary judgment was denied. 

Take aways: 

1) You can be completely oblivious to the fact that you are engaging in copyright infringement, and still be held liable. Purchasers of equine gear for resale would be wise to consult an attorney who is knowledgeable in the area of patent and/or copyright law prior to the purchase; and

2) The creation of a “mirror image” of copyrighted work does not defeat copyright protection.

Case informationSpent v. Montana Silversmiths, 2012 WL 400964, Civil No. SA-11-CA-307-XR (W.D. Texas, Feb. 7, 2012)

Caveat Emptor: $123k Horse Trailer Purchase Goes Very, Very Wrong

Thinking about borrowing over $123,000 to buy a living quarters horse trailer? The case of John Michael Blake and Keith Blake v. GE Money Bank is an illustration of all the reasons you should do due diligence before you drop that kind of cash on a horse trailer.

John Michael and Keith Blake borrowed $123,173.16 from GE Money Bank to buy a horse trailer from a dealer called Southwestern Conversions. According to court filings, the dealer prepared a lien and application for title, but never actually applied for the title or license plate on the trailer.  John Michael and Keith allege they found out their title had not been properly secured, and advised GE Money Bank of this fact.  According to the Blakes, GE Money Bank said they were working out those issues with the dealer and not to worry.

About nine months later, the Blakes decided to sell the trailer through Southwestern Conversions, the same dealer they had bought the trailer from (and the same one who seemed to have botched the title application...). The trailer sold for $60,000 (a considerable loss, so it seems), but Southwetern Conversions apparently kept the $60,000 it received for the Blakes' trailer, then filed for bankruptcy. 

Today there are some ads for trailers for sale on from Southwestern Conversions, but all of them say "Status: Unavailable".  I did find a good customer review of Southwestern Coversions from 2008 online.

The Blakes never got title to the trailer and it was now gone and they still owed payments on it to GE Money Bank.  And they had been making all their payments on time before they sold the trailer.  What a mess.  The Blakes sued GE Money Bank after the bank failed to credit their loan for the $60,000, alleging that the bank didn’t properly assist them in securing title. 

Without doing a lot of research, I can't report the current status of this case.  I can say that it was pending in the Western District of Texas (federal court in Texas) under Cause No. AS-10-CV-860-XR, but my review of the docket on PACER indicates that United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ordered the case remanded to the 38th District Court of Medina County, Texas on June 27, 2011. 

Hat tip to Krysia Nelson at Equine Law & Business Letter for noticing this case first.

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