Texas A&M involved in Copyright Lawsuit

My alma matter, Texas A&M, where I obtained my mechanical engineering degree is involved in a copyright lawsuit.

Recently, on March 15, 2019, Texas A&M University asked U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen to find that the Texas A&M Athletic Department is not a separate entity and therefore is entitled to immunity in the Texas A&M “12th Man” copyright suit.

Michael J. Bynum, an author, sued Texas A&M after Texas A&M posted on its website a substantial portion of Mr. Bynum’s unpublished book, “12th Man: The Life and Legend of Texas A&M’s E. King Gill”. According to the complaint, Texas A&M, “nearly word-for-word,” copied a large section of Bynum’s work without permission and violated Bynum’s copyright in his unpublished work.

The “12th man” is a well-known phrase used by Texas Aggies, and originally refers to former football legend E. King Gill but now refers to the entire student body at Texas A&M. Texas A&M owns the trademark rights in the “12th man” and is known to enforce its rights, including filing many lawsuits.

The main issue I find interesting and distressing is the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The doctrine generally means a state cannot be sued without first giving its consent to be sued. So be careful if you ever want to assert your rights against a governmental body!  Information on the lawsuit can be found here.


On March 4, 2019, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that basically changed the long-standing practice of a plaintiff needing only to apply for copyright registration prior to bringing a copyright infringement lawsuit. Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous court, said the law requires a litigant to have an issued registration, or a rejected application, subject to certain limited exceptions.  Prior to this ruling, many litigators only filed an application for copyright registration prior to filing a copyright infringement lawsuit.  However, the Supreme Court clarified the law, and made it clear that a copyright owner must have an issued registration or a refusal to register from the Copyright Office.

There are some exceptions. Such as “preregistration” for works that are particularly vulnerable to predistribution infringement, such as movies or musical compositions.  Once a work is “preregistered” the owner may bring suit.

The decision can be read here.