Federal court tosses out copyright and trademark infringement claims.

The federal district court in Waco has dismissed copyright infringement claims against Crawford ISD and Llano ISD. The cases are virtually identical.  Both cases involved a basketball coach who had a Twitter account. Both coaches retweeted a tweet from another Twitter account which contained a photograph of text that was nearly identical to a copyrighted passage from a copyrighted book.

The book was Winning Isn’t Normal by Dr. Keith Bell.  Dr. Bell got copyright protection for this book in 1989 and subsequently obtained copyright protection for one specific passage in the book, which the court referred to as “the WIN Passage.”  On top of that, in 2014 Dr. Bell trademarked the phrase “Winning Isn’t Normal.”

The school districts were not directly involved in the tweeting.  The schools did not tweet or retweet anything. But they employed a coach who retweeted a tweet that allegedly infringed on a copyright.  Thus the court pointed out that “Dr. Bell cannot establish a direct copyright infringement” against the school district. His case was based on “vicarious infringement” or “contributory infringement.” 

The court rejected both theories.  The court noted that “Dr. Bell has failed to establish beyond mere speculation that increased attendance at basketball games, increased student desire to attend Crawford ISD, or any direct financial benefit could be ‘distinctly attributable’ to the allegedly infringing Twitter post.”  Moreover, Dr. Bell “does not sufficiently allege the school district induced, caused, or materially contributed to the infringement.” 

The court dismissed the claims of trademark infringement because the coaches did not use the trademarked phrase “in commerce upon or in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of goods or services.”  In short, if it’s not used to make a buck, it can’t be trademark infringement.  The court noted that the coach retweeted in an effort to “instruct others to read and appreciate the passage for its motivational value.” 

The cases are Bell v. Crawford ISD and Bell v. Llano ISD. Both were decided by the federal district court for the Western District of Texas on February 13, 2020. I’m pleased to let you know that Kelly Kalchthaler and Joey Moore, shareholders in our Austin office, represented the districts in these cases. 

Be careful on Twitter, folks. 


Tomorrow: constructive discharge.