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.

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Comments on “Why Should A TV Show Need Permission To Include A University Logo?”

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CmdrOberon says:

Flawed Logic


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’.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Octothorpe (profile) says:

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.

duane (profile) says:

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…

Comboman says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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!

JRosen (profile) says:


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.

Rob R. (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Tom The Toe says:

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.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: 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).

Hlwd says:

Re: Re: 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?

Steve R. (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Rob R. (profile) says:

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.

John Duncan Yoyo (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: FAUX brands become real Re:

I don think a few faux brands have made the jump to the store shelves.

In fact, there’s a whole company (whose own name is stolen from a movie) that does that:


Still, none of that means that showing the letterhead of a real university means the university has endorsed the show.

Jason says:

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 .

AdamBv1 (profile) says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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
– 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.

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