March 16, 2015

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.      

Your Comment

10 Comments

That is so amazing. Wow. Glad to know this.

March 16, 2015 at 6:00PM

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Josh Wolf
102

Regarding logos in the picture, it's not really up to the filmmaker or the distributor whether or not they need to be removed. It's decided by the E&O insurance provider and since insurance companies want to play it as safe as possible they may require the logos removed before they will cover your film. Just to keep in mind since you may not be able to talk your way out of blurring out the logos even though it is legally permissible and you may not have the money and time to have lawyers negotiate for you about it.

March 16, 2015 at 7:11PM, Edited March 16, 7:11PM

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Kevin James Barry
Writer/Director
86

Would this also apply to online commercials for corporate media? For example if I had an actor wearing running shoes in an online ad. for a fortune 500 and you could see the nike logo in the shot?

March 16, 2015 at 9:47PM

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Judy G
74

Advertising is very different. They even talk about this in the series of videos.

March 16, 2015 at 10:59PM, Edited March 16, 10:59PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
350

A photographer once told me they could use anything as a prop but advertising is much more restrictive. You don't want to appear to be promoting or using that product or brand for promotion without permission.

March 21, 2015 at 6:51PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
410

I didn't even realize that people weren't aware why logos get blurred out in studio produced stuff.

March 17, 2015 at 10:44PM, Edited March 17, 10:44PM

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What a charming, great team to have on your side.

March 23, 2015 at 5:41AM

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yannakis jones
Writer Director
81

Ah, this is a useful watch.

I had done the research myself, and there are indeed tons of misconceptions about legal restrictions applying to filming e.g. we always think we need a permit to film in public places; not actually true - local councils want to push the idea because that means more money for them, but there's very rarely a law that can actually punish you for filming in a public place. Of course, if an accident happens BECAUSE of your filming, that's another story...

The truth is, art is not often a cause of major legal concern or attention in the Western world, so art law is much more lax than civil or criminal law. Art is also much harder to regulate (public opinion at the heart of it all).

But then again, if a state or federal body wants to take a go at you because the art you're making conflicts with their interests, I bet you they'll find a way to take you down - in a way or another. I just watched Dinosaur 13 and it's pretty deplorable to hear about the story of people who became scapegoats at the mercy of a justice system that just wanted to 'send a message'... mainly because they could.

At the end of the day, "they" have the power - so keep that in mind when you film: you can do whatever you want as long as you just don't piss anybody off to the extent where they'll want to take action! And of course, luck.

March 23, 2015 at 9:36PM

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Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director
503

HI All,

I am about to finish a short all shot in a car.

The logo of the vehicle is clearly visible on the steering wheel and on the front of the car...I would rather not blur it if I can avoid it.

I also am using some talk radio in the background, I have contacted the station manager but they have not replied yet. I am also using some opera music and I am not sure if given the fact that is over 70 years old means I am allowed to use it.

Can any of you give me some points please?

Thanks

P

July 14, 2015 at 10:57PM

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Paolo Mugnaini
Director/DP/Editor
60

Am I allowed to shoot posters of The Bealtes in the background of my scene?

September 21, 2016 at 10:31PM

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Alfonso Loya
Film Director
1