American Airlines is taking the United States Copyright Office to court over the agency's repeated refusal to grant copyright protections to the carrier's logo that appears on everything from flight safety videos to advertisements to credit cards.
It's the latest escalation in a years-long back and forth during which the copyright office has argued American's new logo, introduced in 2013, isn't creative enough to warrant a copyright.
To American, the new logo, referred to as "the Flight Symbol," blends red and blue elements to represent the tail of a plane, with the subtle shading of an eagle meant to suggest flight.
The logo's designer Futurebrand even won a Clio, a top advertising award, for its work on American's rebranding following its merger with US Airways.
But to the US Copyright Office, the logo appears more like an "elongated rectangle" with an "exceedingly common" colour palette of red, white and blue, lacking sufficient "original and creative" authorship to warrant protection.
The office has thrice denied American's application for copyright protections that date back to 2016, prompting the Fort Worth-based carrier to file a federal lawsuit last week asking a judge to overrule the department's decision, which American has called "arbitrary, capricious ... and an abuse of discretion."
"American Airlines' Flight Symbol easily possesses the modicum of creativity necessary to qualify for copyright protection," the carrier said in a complaint filed in US District Court Northern District of Texas. "Indeed ... the Copyright Office has registered multiple designs that do not approach the creativity and uniqueness embodied in the Flight Symbol."
American's logo is already a registered trademark, which prevents it from being used by others in commercial settings, but copyright registration would provide a broader set of protections.
While both American and the Copyright Office acknowledge the logo is built from a combination of geometric shapes, they diverge on the amount of originality that went into its creation.
In its lawsuit, American cites a 1991 Supreme Court ruling that states only "a minimal degree of creativity" is required for copyright protection. And while the Copyright Office seems to agree that "the bar for creativity is low," it said in a January letter to American that the bar "does exist and the (logo) cannot glide over even its low heights."
The office, part of the Library of Congress, has not filed a response to the lawsuit yet and did not return a request for comment.
It registered 414,000 copyrighted works in 2016, according to American's lawsuit.