As product placement in television and film becomes more prevalent, it was only a matter of time before intellectual property silliness had to follow. For example, we've seen such wonderful cases of egocentrism as a copyright claim over a painting
shown in a movie. Couple that with product placement examples that are awkward
for all involved and you've got a recipe for litigious fun not seen since a murder trial involving a former Buffalo Bills running back.
writes in about a story that appears to be a nice crossroads of these two aspects of product placement, in which several alcohol companies are apparently upset
that their products are being shown in the movie Flight
doing what those products do: get people drunk.
Anheuser-Busch said Monday that it has asked Paramount Pictures Corp. to obscure or remove the Budweiser logo from the film, which at one point shows Washington's character drinking the beer while behind the wheel.
Budweiser is hardly the only alcoholic beverage shown in "Flight," which earned $25 million in its debut weekend and is likely to remain popular with audiences. Washington's character frequently drinks vodka throughout the film, with several different brands represented. William Grant & Sons, which distributes Stolichnaya in the United States, also said it didn't license its brand for inclusion in the film and wouldn't have given permission if asked.
Now, you may be asking yourself, "Why didn't the film get permission to use the products in their film?" The answer is about as complicated as a straight line; they don't have to. Studios are not required to ask for permission to include every little brand in their movies -- even if some companies now think that's the case. True, Denzel Washington's character in the film is a drunk and Budweiser may not be pleased to be associated with that aspect of the story, but the law isn't concerned about Budweiser's pleasure. Trademark law isn't about making sure you're always happy about how your product is displayed.
Even going beyond trademark law, it's not like they were "misrepresenting" anything. I, for one, can assure you that the depiction of beer being able to get a person hammered is spot on accurate, and if you won't take my word for it, I'll give you the phone numbers of some of my neighbors who can relate their experiences living near me on NFL Sundays. The point is that there's a reason these companies didn't give their permission: nobody asked them for it.
Trademark laws "don't exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items," said Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project. "It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that's sort of led to a culture where they expect they'll have control. That's not a right the trademark law gives them."
Jay Dougherty, a professor at Loyola Law School, said the use of brands in films has generally been protected by the courts, even when the companies aren't pleased with the portrayals. "It wouldn't have been as effective a film if they used a bunch of non-generic brands," said Dougherty, who is also the director of the school's Entertainment & Media Law Institute. "In a normal situation, if the alcohol were just there as a smaller part of the movie, they might have created an artificial brand for it."
Unfortunately, with the wonderful garden of permission culture that IP laws have fertilized so well for us, companies think they can control...and control...and control. But just because sometimes filmmakers seek out product placement, that doesn't mean that all brand appearances need to first receive approval. Thankfully, thus far, the courts have recognized that they cannot keep their products out of film this way. Now let's all go have a non-generic beer.