Why Does Lego Get To Stop Spinal Tap From Using Lego Video?

from the answer:-no-good-reason dept

We recently wrote about the ridiculous job for lawyers making sure no unauthorized brands appear in a movie — which doesn’t have much of a legal basis. But, for some reason, companies back down on that sort of stuff all the time. The latest example involves the classic mockumentary band Spinal Tap, who is putting out a new DVD, where they thought (correctly) that it would be cool to include a fan-made video of one of their “hits,” “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight.” The video was made by a then 14-year-old and was a stop-action video involving a lego version of the band and its fans:

Now, from Spinal Tap’s point of view, this is a very cool way of connecting with fans: making use of a cool video in their DVD. In fact, they even played it up, and during a live performance where the video was shown, got real-life fans to mimic the lego fans, by holding their hands in the infamous “C” position of the plastic lego figures. But, of course, the lawyers got in the way. Lego objected to some of the words in the song and denied the use of the video on the DVD (oddly, the DVD still shows the fans with their hands, though it no longer makes any sense). But the real question is why Lego was even consulted. As Kimberley Isbell notes, Lego doesn’t seem to have a legal leg to stand on here:

Lego justified its stance by citing the “commercial” nature of the Spinal Tap video.  But can Lego really prohibit the use of their products in commercial videos?  If you ask the federal courts, the answer is likely “no.” It’s a lesson that Mattel has repeatedly had to learn the hard way.

But that hasn’t stopped trademark and copyright owners from trying. The court summarily rejected Wham-O’s claims against Paramount Pictures for the unflattering use of its Slip ‘N Slide toy in the movie “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.” Caterpillar likewise had its claims against Walt Disney (relating to the portrayal of the brand in the oh-so-popular movie “George of the Jungle 2“) shot down. Similar claims by Emerson Electric Co. (makers of the In-Sink-Erator garbage disposal) and the Canadian folk band the Wyrd Sisters also failed to go anywhere.

But, unfortunately, the people putting together the Spinal Tap DVD did, in fact, cave in, and the video has not been included.

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Companies: lego

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Comments on “Why Does Lego Get To Stop Spinal Tap From Using Lego Video?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Time was

It isn’t a question of “not allowed”, it is question that the brand company has the right to control their image. It could be implied from this video that Lego supports Spinal Tap, that the mentality of Spinal Tap is in line with the marketing message of lego, and generally that Lego thinks that everything spinal tap is about is good for their target market, 3 to 10 year olds.

Again, it is a two way street, you cannot dictate to a company how their will be marketed. They can’t tell you what to do with the product, but they can control their brand and image.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time was

It could also be implied from their actions here that the Lego people are a bunch of whiny assholes. It could be implied that you a crossdressing transsexual. What exactly is your point?

Actually, Lego has no right at all to control their image. Does Lego have the right to sue me because I spoke unfavorably of their product to my girlfriend? No.

This has nothing to do with Lego’s trademarks or selling their product, it has to do with a homemade video that happens to include Lego products in it. Under your logic, should the fashion designers that designed the clothes people are wearing in the video have the right to bar the video from commercial consumption? After all, it might be implied that they support Spinal Tap, no? What about the factory that made the clothes? How about the carpet makers of the carpet in the video? The architect and builders of the house? The furniture makers of every chair and table that might be glimpsed?

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time was

The Lego brand is incidental in this case. The product is being used, not marketed. I’ve never understood the “use of product implies endorsement” argument whether it’s with a politician using someone’s music (paying royalties, of course, unless it falls under fair use or parody) or someone cracking open a Coca-Cola on a cooking show. Basically, I think it’s companies (lawyers, really) trying to hyper-control while at the same time dissing consumers with the argument that they are too dumb to understand that the product maker doesn’t endorse the thoughts, beliefs or activities of all those who use the product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Time was

“The Lego brand is incidental in this case”

Not at all – even the single freeze frame of the video is more than enough to see that the character is a lego character. A moron in a hurry might consider that Lego is somehow involved, and legally, that is probably enough all by itself.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Time was

“A moron in a hurry might consider that Lego is somehow involved”

That’s not how the courts & common sense has traditionally defined it. You’re talking about a brain-dead idiot in a casket might consider that the Lego corporation is somehow directly involved. Just as that same person would think Smith & Wesson was somehow directly involved in a train robbery their guns were used in or used in a scene in a movie.

A moron in a hurry would guffaw and point at the funny little men dancin’ & singin’.

ikegami says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Time was

Not at all – even the single freeze frame of the video is more than enough to see that the character is a lego character. A moron in a hurry might consider that Lego is somehow involved

So you can accurately determined that Lego blocks were involved. That’s not a problem, since there’s no confusion. If you thought Lego blocks were used but they some other company’s blocks were actually used, then it might be a problem.

Alan Gerow (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time was

But a company of a manufactured product doesn’t have the right to control for personal or commercial use what said person does with the manufactured product.

Lego already made their money in this transaction. Someone purchased a Lego set that included Lego men. Lego made their financial transaction in this deal already. Now, someone else used their product, altered it, and made a video. Lego’s dealings are done. They may WANT to protect their image because they don’t LIKE some parts of the song, but that doesn’t mean they have any LEGAL RIGHTS to sue for the stoppage of distribution of the video.

Can Ford stop Pizza Hut from allowing its delivery drivers to drive Ford cars & trucks because they don’t want Ford associated with lazy people getting pizza delivered right to their door? Can one of the scale model companies that made a model kit used by George Lucas to build the Death Star sue Lucas because they don’t want their Battleships associated with actual planetary destruction? Would Office Space had to have chosen a completely not real looking photocopier because Xerox didn’t want to be associated with disgruntled employees?

What you’re talking about with controlling brand & image is trademark, and they don’t have a very compelling trademark violation. They just don’t have the legal rights to do what they’re doing. As a company that makes a physical product, how that product gets used, whether or not it gets recorded and used personally or commercially, is just out of their control. They’ve already sold that product, they’ve already made their financial transaction, they are done in the process.

A Lego box doesn’t have a Terms of Service or Terms of Usage. And even if it did, it wouldn’t mean that Lego has the legal rights that they claim on the box.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time was

So let’s say Hollywood makes a movie, say “A Fish Called Wanda”, where Kevin Kline is an idiot, asshole assassin, and drives a big Chevy through London in a reckless fashion.

By your logic, GM now can say that the scenes of Otto driving that Chevy need to be removed because GM:

“has the right to control their image. It could be implied from this video that [GM] supports [Otto the Nietzsche-quoting assassin]?”

When you say “it could be implied” what you fail to add, but you to implicitly suggest is: “it could be implied by a complete idiot with no common sense and no comprehension of the concept of fictional stories…”

By your logic, cars would seldom be seen in any movie, because to show a car, you would have to make sure the use of the car was conducive to the desired image and brand of the car maker. Bad guys, thus, would never be able to drive.

This line of thinking is stupid, but is apparently the direction we’re going with respect to ownership and control of ideas.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Time was

“This line of thinking is stupid”

Don’t be so down on yourself – I think it has potential and we should be encouraging it. If we can get all the mega corporations to sue and counter sue each other silly over movies, product placement (or lack of), spurious trademark infringement and god knows what else, it could work

By the time they’ve finished the most maniac of them will be dead in the water, the RIAA will no longer have any backers as they’ll have been ground into the dust and we might all get some freedoms back

From now on we should all partake in more mind altering substances (so we can think more like entertainment lawyers) and report anything remotely odd to company shysters immediately

I’ll even hire out and be a moron in a hurry for a fee

I’m off to do a Lego video of U2 performing a Disney High School musical cover, I might even start some Lego porn (although that would be more for kicks)

so little time…

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:


This is deeply ridiculous and, if pressed in court, they will lose. Unfortunately, it wastes everyone’s time, money and is demoralizing. I find it funny to see even on The Food Network that some shows go to great lengths to “greek out” the labels and brands, where others just let it all hang out. I always wondered why there was a difference…I’m sure it’s just the legal advice the production companies got. So stupid and it assumes the viewers and consumers are stupid, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They asked the Danish

The people who made the Monty Python DVD were probably based in England and asked the Lego people in Denmark who were probably quite chilled out about the whole deal. The Spinal Tap people probably spoke to Lego’s US people…
There are hundreds of Lego videos on youtube. I fully expect that Lego are raking in the benefit from the publicity.

Kevin Stapp (profile) says:

IP in the physical world

This blog often discusses the folly of applying physical property attributes to intellectual property (infringement isn’t the same as theft, etc.) This is example of just the opposite: Intellectual property attributes applied to the physical world.

There seems to be a groundswell of thinking among some corporations that their IP rights allow them to exercise some control over the use of the physical goods they produce.

No one questions the idea that purchasing a good transfers the ownership to you and, after purchase, it is yours to use as you see fit. What is getting muddied is when that purchased good appears on a video or picture then somehow the company’s IP rights come back into play. The company’s position seems to be that once on film, IP entitles the company to exercise control over the use of the product.

The whole thing is silly. The only time IP should come into question is if your filming of a product somehow confuses consumers.

For example, I buy a Ford truck. I can video my use of the vehicle in any way it suits me. What I cannot do is produce a video that appears to be commercial by the Ford Motor Company (confuses the consumer), claims that I make Ford Trucks (infringes on trademark), or claims my uses of the truck are endorsed by Ford Motor Company (confuses the consumer).

I might choose the film myself ramming my Ford truck into a tree but as long as a moron in a hurry wouldn’t be misled into thinking Ford Motor Company endorsed slamming its products into a tree then there is no issue.

Jamie (user link) says:

Giving in

“But, for some reason, companies back down on that sort of stuff all the time.”

The reason companies cave so often, when they don’t have to, is that the cost of the potential legal battle isn’t worth it. Especially when they won’t lose any money by just removing the offending video.
Would they win the legal battle? Probably, but they would spend a lot of money and time fighting it. So it is just easier to give in and do as Lego wants.

cryptozoologist (profile) says:

my experience with lego's lawyers

i was writing a book about cool stuff one could build with lego bricks. i wrote to the lego corp to get some guidance about how to use their logos and trademarks in ways they wouldn’t object to. like for instance they really don’t like it when the bricks are referred to as ‘legos’ preferring ‘lego bricks’ for example. the response i got was a threat that if i was going to write such a book that i would have to negotiate a royalty arrangement with them my book project would not go forward. i wrote back explaining that the entire project would not need to even mention lego at all beyond stating that ‘lego(tm) or any of the excellent compatible bricks are required for the models in this book’. i never heard back from them, also i have yet to finish the book. this still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth a decade later. all i wanted to do was promote their product but they decided to be jerks.

Bobbi says:

my experience with lego's lawyers

good Post.

Finish your book and put any plastic bricks and give the dimensions. Lego lost their court battle against the patent for the bricks because they are not the innovators of the brick design. Now any toy maker can make the blocks. I think they are greedy, pompous, jerks. Finish your book. You have a right to make money on your designs.

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