Ball Don't Lie

U.S. Supreme Court rejects man’s copyright claim on phrase ‘Let’s go Thunder,’ because duh

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

View photo

.

Wanda Pratt, Kevin Durant's mom, wears a shirt that is now officially not illegal. (AP)

Welcome back to Ball Don't Lie, your one-stop shop for news on legal strife related to NBA-related terms and phrases. Next up: The end of the road for a remarkably ill-considered lawsuit over ownership of a commonly yelled phrase that made its way to the Supreme Court, because sometimes the things that make America great also make it the worst.

Area man Charles A. Syrus wrote a song in support of the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2007, as the then-Seattle SuperSonics were readying their southeast move. It reportedly included such pithy, original phrases as, "Let's go, Thunder." As the Thunder became a thing, that phrasing — the likes of which had never before been seen or uttered anywhere, one would suspect — became an integral part of supporting the club, appearing on T-shirts, on signs, in chants ... heck, everywhere, it seemed!

This, of course, left Syrus no choice but to seek compensation for the fruits of his ceaseless and immeasurable mind labors, so he filed suit against the Thunder's owners — Clay Bennett was the named defendant in the complaint — seeking somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of the team's "net gross." The argument? That any signage, clothing and cheers used by Oklahoma City's fans, cheerleaders and mascot that included the phrases "Go Thunder" or "Let's Go Thunder" infringed on Syrus' copyright, since he had totally made those things up out of thin air and whole cloth using his own innate and unique brilliance.

The case was originally filed in Oklahoma Western District Court back in October 2010. The judges there turned down Syrus' claim, as did the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in November 2011 that "common phrases aren't protected by copyright simply because they're in a song that has copyright registration."

"We need not decide whether the general rule against copyrighting short phrases admits of exceptions based on the level of creativity because we easily conclude that the phrases 'Go Thunder' and 'Let's Go Thunder' do not reflect the minimal creativity required for copyright protection," the [10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals] said. "The phrases are merely predictable variations on a cheer widely used in sports, that is, 'Go' or 'Let's Go' combined with the name of the team for which the cheer is uttered."

And now, the last passel of justices who can have a say in the matter have had theirs, and they have said no. Actually, they haven't even done that; the Supreme Court rendered its decision "without comment," according to Chris Casteel at the Oklahoman, which we should all very clearly take as a room full of respected legal minds refusing to even commit the words, "C'mon, dude," to paper:

The Supreme Court on Monday effectively affirmed the appeals court decision.

Hmm. Well, this doesn't seem like a very good omen for the outcome of my claim on the phrase, "God, Pass The Ball, Carmelo." I think I'm probably still on solid ground in my suit over, "Jesus, Really, Mets? Well, That's Just Great," though.

Seriously: This case — ridiculous on its face, laughable on its merits, nonsensical to anybody — took nearly two years to reach its resolution, and had to be muted and snuffed out in the place where they do things like debate the limits of free speech, discuss what kinds of people have the right to marry one another and decide if someone maybe shouldn't be killed by the state. That really just happened!

If you've ever wondered why people get all excited about the idea of tort reform and agitated about how totally insane, needless lawsuits litter the legal landscape, this is why. Congratulations, Charles A. Syrus! You have wasted nearly two years of a bunch of people's time. It's a proud legacy you leave.

View Comments