If you’ve ever watched reality TV, you’ve likely noticed the blurred spots, which cover parts of people’s clothing and/or products. That’s done by television producers to obscure product logos and brand names. But is that practice legal?
The hit motion picture “Flight,” which opened on November 2nd, starring Denzel Washington is once again stirring up controversy, but this time over the use and display of brand name products.
In the movie, Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic pilot named Whip Whitaker. Whitaker is shown throughout the movie drinking Budweiser beer, and other brand name alcoholic beverages. At one point in the film, Denzel’s character is even shown driving while drinking a Bud. As you can imagine, Anheuser Busch, the manufacturer of Bud is not happy. Anheuser Busch has asked Paramount Pictures to blur any use of the protected trademark, in all future releases and digital versions of the film. They are not likely to do so, unless compelled.
Rob McCarthy, a VP of Budweiser, stated to the Associated Press that Paramount Pictures never got permission to use their product in the film. He went on to say, “We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.”
Although it has become common practice for companies to pay to have their products, logos, and brands advertised in movies and television shows (product placement), some experts assert that producers don’t even need permission to do so.
Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project, makes the point that Trademark laws “don’t exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items. It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that’s sort of led to a culture where they expect they’ll have control. That’s not a right the trademark law gives them.”
Is that true? Should it be? While many companies have had disputes with film producers over this issue, courts seem to side with the trademark owner.
What’s your take on this? I’m Attorney Francine Ward. Join my conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and on my website.