Motivational Speaker Loses Copyright Lawsuit Against High School

Following last week’s Fifth Circuit Judge Gregg Costa decision, joined by Judges Carolyn Dineen King (joint by Don Willett), in Bell v. Eagle Mountain Saginaw Indep. School Dist.:

A Fort Worth public high school flag corps and softball teams used Twitter to share a motivating passage. [230 words, or one page from a 72-page book -EV]From Keith Bell, sports psychologist It’s Not Normal to Win.

The motivation for students to achieve higher levels of performance is unknown. However, we do know that Bell sued the school district over the tweets. Now, we must determine if these tweets are fair usage of copyright which prevents this suit.

According to reports, Dr. Keith Bell had filed over 25 copyright lawsuits.[b]”unauthorized uses between 2006 and 2017″ [this]passage,” mostly against “public school or non-profits that published the WIN Passage via social media. This time, he was defeated:

[T]Fair use was found in the school’s twitter posts. This is consistent with the “ultimate standard of fair use”. It asks whether the copyright law’s aim of encouraging creativity, which would encourage it to be allowed rather than prevented. Although the complaint doesn’t suggest that Bell was adversely affected by school use, it does indicate that Bell did not suffer any cognitively-based harm. It does however show that Bell was used in good faith by the flag corps and softball team for their noble purpose of encouraging students to success. Bell’s lawsuit cannot be dismissed because it is not clear how Bell’s creative arts could benefit. The district court correctly dismissed Bell’s case because a fair-use defense was successful and Bell cannot “prove any set of facts that would overturn it”.

The Fifth Circuit upheld fees awarded by the district court ($10,266.37) for the defendants.

Bell isn’t the copyright plaintiff who seeks “a fair return for” his work. [his] creative labor.” A long tradition of lawsuits against public institutions and charities over his de minimis work has seen him sue many of them. {Bell v. Worthington City Sch. Dist., 2020 WL 2905803, at *3 (S.D. Ohio June 2, 2020 Bell v. Llano Indep. Sch. Dist., 2020 WL 5370591, at *1 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 13, 2020) (same); Bell v. Oakland Cmty. Pools Project, Inc., 2020 WL 4458890, at *1 (N.D. Cal. May 4, 2020. (tweet from a non-profit aquatics center for disadvantaged young people). Bell v. Granite Sch. Dist., No. 2:19.CV-00209–DBB (D. Utah 2019). (Reading the WIN Passage at an award banquet of public schools’ sports programs).

The district court was justified in concluding that Bell is a serial litigant. He makes unreasonable demands for damages to try and extract large settlements. Another case in this series. Bell was shared one page by the school with less than 1000 online followers. The school immediately deleted all of Bell’s posts on request. Bell couldn’t identify any real financial loss, but she brought suit. Bell as well other copyright holders might be interested in similar models of litigation. Attorneys’ fees are therefore an effective deterrent.