Why Should A TV Show Need Permission To Include A University Logo?

from the oh-please dept

Once again, we're hearing about news stories where people assume that a trademark means complete ownership over that mark, rather than simply the ability to prevent its use in confusing or dilutionary ways. The latest, as sent in by JJ, involves the University of Utah, who is threatening HBO over the show "Big Love." Apparently, in one of the episodes, the University's logo is portrayed on letterhead. This is a perfectly reasonable use, and certainly not in any way confusing (even to the proverbial moron in a hurry). Yet the University claims that some might believe this means the University endorses the show. That is, plainly speaking, ridiculous. Plenty of TV shows use logos from real organizations all the time, and it doesn't mean endorsement by that brand at all. If you needed to get approval of every brand ever used in your TV show, no TV shows would ever get produced.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Poster, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:08am

    I really, really hope HBO tells them to shove it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    CmdrOberon, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:11am

    Flawed Logic

    Mike,

    I don't believe your logic stands up. With the
    ever increasing number of paid endorsements appearing
    in TV and film, I don't think it's unreasonable for
    any brand name to believe that their appearance in a
    show or film would lead people to conclude an endorsement.

    At the very least, I believe most would assume that
    some money changed hands for that prominent appearance,
    and since they brand has decided to advertise in that
    particular venue, they must approve of the venue.

    And, everyone knows that 'approval' spelled backwards is 'endorsement'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      WarOtter (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:23am

      Re: Flawed Logic

      I disagree but I'm too tired right now to actually write out why.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:41am

      Re: Flawed Logic

      I completely agree with this. Because the current status of product placement, any time a product can reasonably be identified to be one specific brand (whether it has a logo or a distinctive look like Chuck's iPhone), you need to get clearance.

      And most entertainment law attorneys managing clearance for a production do this. If you didn't notice, studios have been blurring out labels and logos and trade dress on shows like Real World for 10+ years now. In most shows where they didn't get clearance, they'll either block the logo with something else in the shot, or they'll use a camera angle that keeps the trademark off screen.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Steve, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:58am

        Re: Re: Flawed Logic

        They probably blur those things out so they can justify charging people that they do not blur out in a product placement. I doubt anyone that knows anything about the university of Utah thinks they endorse Big Love. Although I don't know why they would not be proud of their heritage.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:00am

        Re: Re: Flawed Logic

        Wow, I always assumed the Real World blocked those logos because they wouldn't pay for the placement, not the other way around. In other words, MTV wouldn't give free advertisement.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:42am

      Re: Flawed Logic

      I agree, Mike's wrong.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Octothorpe (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:26am

    Masnick Misses Mark

    Masnick has really missed the mark on this one. There are may PR departments that would be terrified to have their organization linked in any way shape or form to this highly controversial show. Obviously the University of Utah is onne of those organizations that wants absolutely nothing to do with the show and would not have wanted their logo or name shown. Sure it may be a stretch of trademark laws, but the University has a point in that the use of their logo on the show could tend top show a link between the show and the University and they should have a right to protect the use of their image and reputation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:28am

      Re: Masnick Misses Mark

      Ya so? The point is that they're stretching a law to get it banned - it's not clearly illegal to do so without their permission.

      Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't make it illegal.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:36am

      Re: Masnick Misses Mark

      So put out a press release saying they don't endorse the show and be done with it. Or....file a lawsuit and look like a bunch of clueless idiots...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    AMusingFool (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:26am

    Actually, they'd all just look like 'Repo Man'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    duane (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:34am

    not with you on this one

    I think you're right that this constitutes reasonable use, but I also think that the person above is right too. More and more, people see a logo and think, "Ooh, product placement." That isn't necessarily right, but I think it is more prevalent than ever before.

    In that case, the university is right to be a little concerned. Despite what is right, this is what is perceived.

    You also say "If you needed to get approval of every brand ever used in your TV show, no TV shows would ever get produced." and I think that's true too and is why on a lot of cable shows you see everything under the sun blurred out or taped over. And don't get me started on the background music...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Comboman, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Try to consider their point-of-view

    Let's say there was a controversial TV show about a fictional character who's a bigamist (or worse). On the show, this character is a blogger who writes for website called Techdirt and an episode shows a screen shot with the Techdirt logo. Now, even a moron-in-a-hurry wouldn't assume that the fictional character is real or that any of the bloggers at Techdirt are bigamists, but surely you can see how some viewers might assume that Techdirt had at least some participation in the show's production?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 3:38pm

      Re: Try to consider their point-of-view

      Replace Techdirt with Wikipedia or Google Groups, and you'll see what you said makes no sense at all.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:55am

    sadly in a world where you are bombarded with ads constantly it has made it impossible to display any logo of anything in "movies/tv shows/rock star getting a drink" without thinking "Well they only showed that cause the organization paid them to do that!"

    It really shouldn't be that way, but it is. I'm sure Utah won't pursue this much farther beyond making it clear they are not connected in anyway and they are going to be hopping mad about it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    JRosen, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:56am

    Hooray

    And hooray again for an over-anal lawsuit-happy society.

    It's really as simple as that. Too many people going overboard for minor s***. With all the movies, shows, etc about some kid getting into XYZ college/university, I've NEVER assumed that the institution was 'supporting' the show. Most of them I'm sure are happy for the 'plug' because someone might go 'y'know, I never considered that place as an option'... So christ, get over yourselves that it's a 'controversial' show. Besides, if I recall correctly, this one's been going on for 3-5 seasons now (I don't bother with premium channels so never watched it), which means there's enough people who like it, that U of U has a higher chance of pissing people off about it, and making their attendance perhaps a little worse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Rob R. (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:58am

    Then I guess no more running the show "Coach".

    No matter if you like Apple or not, you have to give them a nod for their policy about product placement in TV/movies. They basically say to go for it. They understand that the more people see their products in good places, the more people will try their products. I just watched the movie "Knowing" and it has Macs all over the place. It's called "Free Advertising" and it has worked for years - until the money grabbers decided to try to muck it up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    CheckersSpeech (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 6:58am

    hmm ...

    "This is a perfectly reasonable use, and certainly not in any way confusing (even to the proverbial moron in a hurry)."

    Maybe it's confusing to the proverbial MORMON in a hurry ...

    /needed to be said

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 11:22am

      Re: hmm ...

      Perfect. Mike's question was answered here, and the comments also should have stopped here.

      This has nothing to do with laws. This is the most densely Mormon community in the country pissing themselves over having seen something they believe represents Mormons in the most well known show about non-Mormon values.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Tom The Toe, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:02am

    OU Logo

    The logo for the University of Oklahoma is used over and over on every episode of TNT's "Saving Grace". Everything from chairs, to mugs to computer wallpaper. It makes the show more real to the viewer since the setting is the OKC police department. You can't swing a bat in Oklahoma with out hitting an OU logo. The school has already been paid when they sold the logoed products they should not be allowed to double dip.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Overcast (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:06am

    So if the university hangs the logo out in a public place where it can been seen by the public - or someone wears a T-Shirt with the logo are they guilty of 'making available' :)?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Opus33, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:10am

    Absolutely incorrect. Production companies employ people whose job it is to obtain the necessary rights-clearances to use any and all brands, labels and marks in each show. Its a pain, yes, but the alternative is to blur it out or use fake brands.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:43am

      Re:

      To use a product in that way, there are no necessary rights or clearances.

      Do you think that Pepsi gets approval for their commercials with the Coke cans in it? Do you think that Burger King gets McDonald's permission to use their logo? Do you really think that the Mythbusters got Apple's permission to use Adam's iPone in a bunch of episodes (or to bitch about the bill on Twitter)?

      The blurring that you see on TV is self censorship. There are two reasons for this; one, they don't want to get into a misguided lawsuit (I would think the most common reason), and two, they don't want to give free advertising (as in they want companies to pay to un-blur the logo).

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Hlwd, Jul 25th, 2009 @ 9:32am

        Name Clearance

        Would you happen to know if interviewing a former or current Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader or Laker Girl for an entertainment show or video and using a graphic that says exactly that:
        Her Name
        Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader (or former DCC or current DCC)

        is allowable or would permission have to be received for that?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Steve R. (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:11am

    Just the Begining

    I vaguely recall cases were demands were made of film crews to get "licenses" to film buildings (in the background) that are publicly visible. (Actually I think they shot around it since they wouldn't pay the fee.) Anything that is publicly visible, essentially being put on public display by the maker, should be protected as a "fair use", such as the school logo, a can of coke, or a Ford automobile.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Trails, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:17am

    I thought you said

    Mormon in a hurry. Apt, given the context.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 7:43am

    It is just a letter

    A Cease-and-Desist letter is just that, a letter. It is not a lawsuit. For all I know (IANAL) the courts are not involved at all. The U of U cannot lose doing this. Their goal is to avoid the appearance of endorsing Big Love. Issuing a press release would have generated limited coverage. Sending the Cease-and-Desist letter makes their point in a big, more public way. Would /. and other media outlets have mentioned a press release? Not a chance.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:20am

      Re: It is just a letter

      good point

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Fiercedeity (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 10:27am

      Re: It is just a letter

      *IF* that was their intent (and we all know it wasn't), that actually makes the situation worse because they are intentionally abusing the intent of desist letters. If they just wanted to make it clear they don't support it, then they should have done a press release. Now it becomes abuse.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:19am

    FINE: The TV shows and movies will just have to make stuff up and hope and pray they don't make one up that exists, and then the real companies no longer get FREE ADVERTISING.

    DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Rob R. (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:32am

    I like how Bill Amend does it in his comic strip Foxtrot. He reverses letters in the name. He'll say Toridos for chips, and Verlon for makeup, an iFruit for iMac and things like that. Perhaps the TV industry needs to follow suit and make up a ton of fake logos and companies for all of the series to draw from. I'd bet after a few months of doing that, Google statistics would see those terms searched for quite a bit - showing that the real companies are losing that much revenue from the exposure loss.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Rob R. (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:34am

      Re:

      I meant to link it: Foxtrot

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Jul 11th, 2009 @ 6:29am

      FAUX brands become real Re:

      My daughter watches iCarly on nick and they feature computers and phones with a big pear on the back of the phone and computer.

      Homer Simpson drinks Duff bear which I have never found on a shelf. I wonder if people have tried to buy the rights to that faux brand. I don think a few faux brands have made the jump to the store shelves.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    NullOp, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:34am

    Another spin is...

    One might also look at logo use as free advertising. Personally, I think NO real-world logos should be used without payment from their owner. Make the bastards pay and I suspect the tune will change...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Jason, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:37am

    I have to disagree with this

    Branding is too important to allow distribution without permission.

    Your disbelief of the statement "yet the University claims that some might believe this means the University endorses the show" is inaccurate.

    What if Techdirt's image was produced and used in a commercial that promotes drug use, drug sales, prostitution, and pimping?

    What if a show about rapist showed your blog being used by rapist to lure in victims? There would be some adverse publicity.

    And don’t use the fallacious reasoning that I am comparing Big Love to these acts I am not. I am just saying that I believe your logic in this specific case is inaccurate .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    AdamBv1 (profile), Jul 10th, 2009 @ 8:47am

    Who really assumes right off the bat that any real logo or organization name full supports a show it appears in? when your dealing with a show that is supposed to happen in the real normal world you don't always invent new fictional places for everything and shouldn't have to.

    Also think of all the places where government logos are used in shows all the time, because we see a presidential seal or any other logo do we automatically assume they support or endorse the show?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 9:20am

    Re: Who really assumes ...

    The whole issue of Big Love, polygamy, fundamentalist (breakaway) Mormons, and the LDS Church (Mormon) is very touchy. The U of U is right to want to distance themselves and to avoid even the appearance of endorsement. Even if most would not assume an endorsement, some might. To ensure there is no misunderstanding and to keep itself out of the bigger controversy, the U of U sent the Cease-and-Desist letter, and then sent it to the media. Brilliant. My guess is there is no intent whatsoever of bringing this to court. The point has already been made.

    Yes, I am a University of Utah Alum. Yes, I live in Utah. To get a more detailed perspective, read some of the comments attached to the original Deseret News article.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 9:49am

    T-Shirts

    Does this mean that U of U will also stop the licensing of T-Shirts to ensure that a student does not wear one to his after hours job at a strip club?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 10:04am

      Re: T-Shirts

      Seriously? In your example, there's a guy who might get seen by under 50 people (is anyone really paying attention to what the guys are wearing at a strip club?). In this case, we have a commercial entity blasting the logo into millions of homes at prime time.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Joe Dirt, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 11:31am

        Re: Re: T-Shirts

        I'm with Mike on this one. Since when does the size of the exposure make a difference? We're talking about a claim of unauthorized use of a logo, whether it's 50, or 50 million viewers, the law should be the same.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 9:50am

    wow, so much infringement here

    If the university is right, and this techdirt post was somehow shown on a TV show, then there would be cause for lawsuits from:
    - apple
    - mythbusters
    - Burger King
    - McDonalds
    - U of Oklahoma
    - Pepsi
    - Coke
    - HBO
    - and if I just added Disney, Monster, RIAA they could sue too?more

    Wow, just think how much $$ the lawyers could make just from research, filing, motions, prosecution, and appeals - even if the lawsuits are thrown out. Why settle for lawsuits to prevent confusion when you can make $$ on a name or logo appearing anywhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    42tvdeal, Nov 3rd, 2011 @ 5:51pm

    The good tv show great for Black Friday 42 TV. Thanks

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This