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Major Legal Victory For TWHBEA



MAJOR LEGAL VICTORY FOR TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE BREEDERS’ & EXHIBITORS’ ASSOCIATION

Federal Judge Decides NWHA Committed Copyright Infringement of TWHBEA’s Pedigree Database

 

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (February 1, 2007) – In a landmark decision, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee decided yesterday that the registry of pedigrees belonging to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) qualified for copyright protection and that a competing organization, the National Walking Horse Association (NWHA), committed copyright infringement when it used and copied information from TWHBEA’s certificates of registration. 

 

In 1935, TWHBEA created and established a registry to record the pedigrees of Tennessee Walking Horses.  The registry contains more than 70 years worth of unbroken ancestral lineage and approximately 430,000 horses, giving it a market share of 98 percent of the registered Tennessee Walking Horses. 

 

As noted in the opinion, NWHA launched a competing registry of Tennessee Walking Horse pedigrees in July 2004.  NWHA’s exclusive sources of pedigree information were TWHBEA’s certificates, the Canadian registry, and canned software that NWHA purchased for $100.  NWHA explicitly invited applicants to attach their TWHBEA registry certificates and then copied the horses’ pedigrees, markings, colorings, and even TWHBEA’s unique numbering designations. 

 

In the opinion granting summary judgment to TWHBEA on its copyright claim, Chief Judge Todd Campbell wrote: “The undisputed facts show that TWHBEA has exercised creativity and has adopted unique and creative selection criteria in deciding which horses to include in its Registry, including the choices about what horses are pure bred Tennessee Walking Horses, the designation for foundation horses, and specific colors and markings of the Tennessee Walking Horse, all of which have evolved over time.”  He also wrote: “It is the way in which the facts have been expressed, selected and coordinated by TWHBEA in the Registry and Registry Certificates as a whole work of authorship that is original and subject to the protection of TWHBEA’s copyright.”  Ruling that NWHA has infringed TWHBEA’S copyright, “the Court [found] that the undisputed facts show that NWHA has solicited TWHBEA Registry Certificates from applicants and copied [them] almost verbatim.”

 

Lower courts have struggled to determine whether a compilation or database possesses enough originality to warrant copyright protection, since the 1991 Supreme Court decision, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., which addressed the lack of originality in a telephone listing.  Sid Baucom, member of the Executive Committee of TWHBEA’s Board of Directors, stated, “Our mission has always been to protect and promote the Tennessee Walking Horse.  This decision assures our members throughout the 50 states and abroad that we will continue to maintain purity of the breed and to honor the trust all members place in us by registering their horses with TWHBEA.” 

 

Baucom went on to say, “This decision has far-reaching impact for all of our sister organizations in the horse industry, such as The Jockey Club, the Arabians, the Thoroughbreds, the Morgan Horses, and the Saddlebreds, as well as organizations such as the American Kennel Club.”

 

TWHBEA filed suit, styled Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association v. National Walking Horse Association, No. 1:05-0088, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, on December 2, 2005.  TWHBEA is represented by Stephen Zralek, Natalya Rose and Lane Summers Moorman of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC, of Nashville.  Trial begins on February 27, 2007, at which time TWHBEA will present evidence on damages and address the terms of the permanent injunction against NWHA, as well as present evidence on remaining claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition and intentional interference with business relations.

 

TWHBEA, headquartered in Lewisburg, Tenn., is the oldest and most prestigious organization devoted to the promotion of the breed. Founded in 1935, the breed registry was established to record the pedigrees of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Its goal is to maintain the purity of the breed, to promote greater awareness of the Tennessee Walking Horse and its qualities, to encourage expansion of the breed and to help assure its general welfare. For more information, please visit www.twhbea.com.

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