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-   -   Beer signs in the bar (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/taking-care-business/49505-beer-signs-bar.html)

Adam Rench August 17th, 2005 04:56 PM

Beer signs in the bar
I know that the question of getting releases for people to be in your films and also that the question on putting copyrighted music in your films has both been asked. I'm asking a new question (i think). Please point me in the right post if not though.

I will be filming inside a local bar. I've got permission from the owner and will be getting them to sign a location lease. I will also get anyone in the bar at the time who wishes to be in the short to fill out a release form as well.

What about the beer signs though? I know when I watch TV they always fuzzy out the logos and such, but I never see that in films. Do I need to worry about getting a Bud Light sign in my film?

Rick Bravo August 17th, 2005 05:33 PM

Product Placement.
The main reason you see products buzzed out of the shot is because they have not paid or contributed product to the show in which they are being used.

Usually in a movie, if you see a product that is prominently displayed on the screen instead of an incidental glance such as a billboard, sign or business in the background, it is because the company has cut a deal with the producers to provide product and/or money to the company in exchange for the exposure otherwise it would pretty much amount to free advertising.

An example would be Reese's Pieces in "E.T.".

In films, sometimes you will see products that you recognize from the packaging design but if you look closely, instead of saying Coors, for example, it will say Beer. Sometimes the name will be altered in some way so that it is not recognizable. This is known as "Greeking". (I guess it comes from the saying "It's all Greek to me"!

We've checked with our Legal Bureau and have been advised that there is no harm in using a product prominently as long as the product is not being shown in a negative light.

Good luck.


Dan Vance August 17th, 2005 07:17 PM


Originally Posted by Rick Bravo
We've checked with our Legal Bureau and have been advised that there is no harm in using a product prominently as long as the product is not being shown in a negative light.

I'd check again. That's a bizarre comment to make. You're suggesting that anyone can use, for example, the "Budweiser" trademarked logo at their discretion "as long as the product is not being shown in a negative light"?
Absolutely No Way. Anheiser-Busch gets to say when and where their logo is shown. Not getting explicit permission is playing Russian roulette with your film. If they see it and decide they want it out, you'll have to take it out in post and possibly face legal action anyhow.

Originally Posted by Rick Bravo
The main reason you see products buzzed out of the shot is because they have not paid or contributed product to the show in which they are being used.

NOT TRUE. When you see a product name or logo masked out, it's most often because the filmmaker did not have permission to show it. Unless you're making a large budget feature film with an established cast and director, no one (with any sense) is going to PAY to have their product shown. You will have to get their permission, and possibly pay THEM a small fee.
DON'T use any trademarked products or logos without permission. It's an indefensible infringement, and eventually you'll get slapped hard.
Not sure who this "Legal Bureau" is, but their advice is dead wrong.
But don't take my word for it. When you take your finished film to a distributor, they'll ask to see your releases, including those for the beer signs...

Rick Bravo August 17th, 2005 08:22 PM

Bizarre? Legal who?
Sorry to disagree with you there Dan but, if I have to take legal advice from an "Indie Filmaker" or a stack of lawyers (Legal Bureau) who represent and protect a major metropolitan police department, I think my choice is obvious.

I guess that your way of thinking also pretty much rules out shooting anywhere outdoors where anyone's sign is visible whether it is a billboard, gas station sign, Coke sign, McDonald's, Taco Bell, etc...etc...etc... Oh my GOD, what if a jet liner flies by or a taxi drives into the shot and by some stretch, I can see the company's logo? Jeez...is that a Polo shirt, there's the little guy on the horse...a LaCoste...I can see the Alligator, clear as day!

Catch my drift?

But, since I've only been on a couple of sets in my career and neither of us are lawyers, perhaps Adam should retain a professional for any real legal advice.


Mike Teutsch August 17th, 2005 08:24 PM


On this one I'm pretty sure your wrong. If you take Buds logo and use it for promotion that's one thing, but if your in a bar and their sign is in sight that should not be a problem.

I know someone will straighten this out. Hugh?


Pete Bauer August 17th, 2005 08:58 PM

Retaining an IP attorney is the most sure advice, definitely!

Rick, I'm not sure about how much this extends to local/county/state jurisdictions, but despite definitely NOT being a lawyer either, I have in the past found and read references indicating that the federal government and bona fide educational institutions have somewhat more latitude under "fair use" for internal use of copyrighted material that otherwise would require the explicit acquisition of rights...it is still an infringement by the government, but the statutory and case law limitations tend to keep authors from claiming against the government. Not at all sure how that might apply (or not) to trademarks.

Is it possible that the legal team's advice in your jurisdiction is affected by a governmental limitation? In other words, if you're doing video for the police department, perhaps anything you shoot is covered under "fair use" whereas if you took the same shot for your personal indie, you'd be at more risk (liable either way, but with greatly different risk levels)?

I'm under the impression that trademark law, which is more the issue here, is a whole different kettle of fish than copyright...and we really need the lawyers to chime in! Here's the nearest I could find in existing threads on trademark, and it was less than a complete and definitive review of "Trademark Law for DV Enthusiasts":


My only advice: first, listen to your IP attorney, second, err on the side of caution. Third, then sleep well at night!

Rick Bravo August 17th, 2005 09:43 PM

Hi Pete.
I was addressing Adam's initial concern of filming somewhere where the signs are in the background, not being prominently displayed in the shot or being treated as a "product shot".

The case I cited with my department was not for internal use only, it was for air and it involved, in a tight shot, of all things, a box of Krispy Kreme donuts! (OK, I'll wait for the laughter to die down.)

We are very aware of the "Fair Use Laws" and the parameters that we can work with and this had nothing to do with Fair Use.

I understand the point of actually "featuring" a product in a film, but shooting in a location where there are multiple signs whether beer, soft drinks or otherwise would be impractical if you had to get a release from every copyright holder as far as the eye (or the camera) could see.



Dan Vance August 18th, 2005 05:39 AM

In fact I'm 100% right about this. If you pay attention to professional movies and TV shows, you won't see many product logos; those you see will have been cleared. In many cases, the trademark owners may not feel it's worth it to go after you, but it is infringement, and if they want to, they can.
By the way, if you get sued, it won't be your lawyer's house they take, it'll be yours.
Yes, it's a total pain to shoot in a public place and not show trademarks--but you have to do it--that's the way it's done.
There is just no loophole or wiggle room here. If you use someone's trademark without permission, you are infringing (outside of the very narrow 'fair use' area, which wouldn't apply to these projects). The only thing that might save you is if the owner doesn't find out and/or bother with it. Pretty dangerous water to tread in.
But don't take my word for it, or a lawyer's. Go to a distributor and tell them you have a film and there's a McDonalds sign in the background and is that a a problem? THEIR lawyers will say YES, definitely, and tell you to get permission or lose the sign. And rightly so.

Adam Rench August 18th, 2005 07:59 AM

Thanks for all the responses. Halfway through the discussion I said, "Well Adam, let's just do a shallow DoF and blur them signs out!"

That should solve everything!

However, what happens when someone films a Chevy Nova which then passes a Buick, which the passes a Porsche.. and so on and so on. Does the filmmaker need to get persmission from every car manufacturer too?! I mean the logos can be seen like say a slow pan in a parking garage. The Car emblems can be seen in plain sight.

Dylan Couper August 18th, 2005 09:35 AM

For those reading this thread, consider that Dan and Rick may be talking about apples and oranges in terms of what is being shot. I'm not sure what Rick was shooting that his lawyers were involved with and it may have considerably different circumstances than the original poster's situation. The safest course is to consult a lawyer about your individual project, but even safer still... Just take the signs down or turn them around.

Adam Rench August 18th, 2005 10:04 AM

I see IP attorney mentioned.. What does IP stand for? For me it stands for "Internet Protocol" but I have a feeling that that's not what that means in this situation, ;o)

Mike Teutsch August 18th, 2005 10:06 AM


Originally Posted by Adam Rench
I see IP attorney mentioned.. What does IP stand for? For me it stands for "Internet Protocol" but I have a feeling that that's not what that means in this situation, ;o)

Intellectual Property


Paul Tauger August 18th, 2005 11:14 AM


Originally Posted by Rick Bravo


[Mighty Mouse theme plays in background . . . ]

There are only two concerns in using identifiable trademarks and trade dress in film and television projects:

1. Trademark infringement results when there is a likelihood of consumer confusion as to source, sponsorship or affiliation. If a viewer is likely to believe that the CocaCola Corporation sponsored a film because a character drank a can of Coke in a scene, then trademark infringement results, and the producers of the film incur liability. Likelihood of consumer confusion, which is the touchstone of trademark infringement, is a fact-specific, somewhat involved determination involving 7 (and in some jurisdictions, 8) distinct factors. In some cases, it is a somewhat fuzzy analysis, but in others it is usually possible to make a fairly accurate prediction. However, in all cases, the cost of defense of an infringement action ranges from $100,000 (if you're lucky) to $300,000 and potentially lots more. For this reason many producers take the safe road, and either blur the mark or come up with fictional brands.

2. Trademark dilution and tarnishment do not result in damage liability (usually) but can result in issuance of an injunction. Dilution occurs when the "source-identifying character" of a mark is ameliorated. For all intents and purposes, dilution constitutes trademark infringement minus consumer confusion, and the usual infringement analysis applies. Tarnishment occurs when a mark is brought into disrepute, e.g. using it in connection with a porno film. Dilution and tarnishment actions cost just as much as infringement actions.

As Dylan suggested, the safest course of action for a producer is to consult counsel -- determination of infringement, tarnishment and dilution liability is intensely fact-specific, so there's no real rule of thumb to apply. An IP (intellectual property, not internet protocol) lawyer can assist.

Rick Bravo August 18th, 2005 11:22 AM

Thank you, Paul!


Paul Tauger August 18th, 2005 12:20 PM

One addendum: trademarks can, in some circumstances, be protected by copyright as well, i.e. a design mark can also constitute a work of authorship. One that comes to mind is the drawing of the Smith Brothers that is used as a trademark for Smith Brothers cough drops. In that instance, all the normal copyright concerns apply, i.e. no unauthorized copies, no preparation of derivative works, etc. without permission. Of course, all the standard defenses, including fair use, would apply.

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