Do You Need to Remove Company Logos from Your Film?
In another terrific Film Courage video, entertainment attorneys Michael C. Donaldson and Lisa A. Callif (who we have featured before) talk about rights clearances and how you can get away with all sorts of things as a filmmaker that you probably wouldn't expect:
I think this is one of the misconceptions that gets passed around quite a bit, but you don't actually have to remove or blur logos (but faces are a different story entirely). The reason it's done so much in TV and film is that networks and studios want to make sure companies aren't getting free advertising. The other reason is that there might be competing advertisers who have actually paid for ad slots, but their products aren't featured in the show (so they probably wouldn't be happy if another company's products were featured for free).
Generally if you are using a product or showing a place as it is commonly portrayed, and the logos are visible, you're on pretty good legal ground (for example, someone driving a Chevy car to a Chili's or drinking a Coke). Even if you aren't using the product in a manner as intended or not as it's commonly portrayed (someone is smoking weed out of that same Coke can), the law is more on your side than you think. Certain cases will be more grey than others, but filmmakers have far more rights than we are often led to believe. Here is Lisa Califf on that in our previous post:
i) the place or product shot is portrayed in the manner it is commonly portrayed; and (ii) the audience is not led to believe that the brand or store is sponsoring or associated with your film.
On the other hand, anyone can send cease and desists or try to sue you if they'd like, so just because you're allowed to do something, doesn't mean you won't have to do some fighting for it. The best way to avoid this scenario altogether is to not show or blur/remove logos (or use generic/made-up products). That doesn't mean you have to choose that route, but if you're going to be showing a company's products or a business in a very different way from how they're seen in normal, everyday life, it's probably not the worst idea to consult a lawyer — or worst case scenario just avoid the logos completely.
It's also important to keep in mind that networks or studios may have their own policies regarding what they want shown, so if you don't even want to think about the possibility, removing it or not showing the logo could save you that hassle.