Today’s blog post comes from a USA Today article about a copyright issue over American Airlines’s new logo. The airline recently ran into a bit of a snag when it tried to register its logo with the Copyright Office. So let’s take a quick look.

American Airlines adopted a new logo in 2013. As described by the article, “The logo looks like a white eagle’s head poking through a diagonal swoosh with blue on top and red on the bottom.” In 2016, the airline filed an application to register this work with the Copyright Office. The agency, however, rejected the registration, saying that the logo was not creative enough to have a copyright. 

As you may already know, artistic works need to meet three requirements to receive copyright protection. First, works must be “original.” This doesn’t mean works must be “new,” but instead they need to be the independent creations of their authors. That is, they can’t be copies. Second, works have to be “creative,” but only a little creative. And finally, works have to be “fixed,” meaning they have to be saved in some way. Purely ephemeral works do not receive copyright protection. 

Notably, these three requirements are very easy to reach, and most works do so. Still, they exist, and sometimes works don’t meet them. Turning to the creativity requirement, the U.S. Supreme Court looked at this in the famous case, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service. The Court wrote that even “a modicum of creativity” is enough to satisfy this requirement. Still, some things just aren’t creative enough for copyright. Indeed, Feist held that a basic, alphabetical listing of telephone numbers wasn’t creative enough to receive protection. 

American Airlines found out first hand that you can’t ignore the creativity requirement when the Copyright Office rejected its registration application. So, the lesson is, while the copyright requirements may be minimal, we must pay attention to them; we can’t take copyright status for granted. 

But don’t be too sad for American Airlines. The company already registered the image as a trademark, so it has plenty of IP protection over its new logo. Nevertheless, this story is a good reminder that even a huge company like American Airlines is subject to the same requirements as the rest of us when it comes to copyright.  


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