I was listening to the Adam Carolla podcast this morning (as I do most mornings when walking my dogs) and Adam, as he is wont to do, began to rant. And this rant captured my attention because it had to do with legal issues and movies, two of my favorite subjects.

Adam was talking about shooting his movie Road Hard, and how he had taken a black marker and blacked out the Nike swoosh on his shoes, but the wardrobe department kept putting gaffer tape on his shoes to make sure that the swoosh was completely covered.  (You can listen to the rant here starting at 18:12.)  Adam was complaining about the fact that although the swoosh was gone, now it looked like his character wore gaffer tape on his shoes, which is just stupid.  But what struck me when listening to the rant was that even though Adam is the producer, writer, director and star of the movie, and even though he knew that there was no legal reason to block out the Nike swoosh, he just didn’t tell the wardrobe mistress to get away from him with the gaffer tape, clean the black marker off his shoes, and go on with making the movie without dealing with such nonsense.

Why does this happen?  When did filmmakers get the (completely wrong) memo that all trademarks need to be removed from their clothing (and presumably cars, refrigerators, toasters and any other products seen in the movie)?

First, let me make it clear to any filmmakers out there who are making a movie and are worried about having to dummy up fake brands of soda and ketchup to dress the dinner table, THERE IS NO NEED TO DO SO. So long as the character are simply using the product in the normal way it is intended (drinking a soda, wearing a shoe, driving a car), there is absolutely no need or requirement to block out the logos or the name of the product.  And it’s perfectly fine for characters in your movie to talk about products and places in the movie (“I’ll have a Coke,” “Let’s go to McDonalds,” “Where’s my IPhone?”)  For god’s sake, Pulp Fiction has a seminal scene in which the characters talk about nothing but the Burger King Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  

So, if it’s not required by law, how did this get started?  Well, one reason is that it’s a carry-over from reality television.  On most reality shows, logos get blurred out.  Again, this is not a legal requirement it’s because the show is probably sponsored by a food, drink, or clothing company and the network doesn’t want to risk pissing off a sponsor.  If the show gets sponsored by Pepsi, they are not going to be happy if everyone is drinking Coke, and vice-versa.  Since the producers of the reality show doesn’t usually know who the sponsors will be when filming, they play it safe and blur out all of the products, to avoid possibly problems down the road.

The same goes for major motion pictures.  Because of the possible cross-promotion opportunities, when making a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers or Iron Man, deals will be made regarding cars, clothes, watches, and other products seen in the film.  That will mean that the studio will sometimes agree not to show competing brands in the film.

But you, my loyal reader, probably don’t have those kind of concerns.  If you’re making your own movie, you probably do not have any sponsorship deals.  So don’t worry about covering up brands in your films.

I do have one small caveat to this rule.  If someone is going to use the product in an unusual way, then you may want to create a fake product.  For example, if someone in the film was going to drink a poisoned soda and die a horrible death, you might be better off mocking up a fake can, rather than using a Coke.  Do I think that if you did so you would be infringing Coke’s trademark? No, I don’t.  But, unless it’s critically important to the plot that you use a name brand, I would advise against it, just to ensure that you don’t get entangled in a baseless lawsuit.

But otherwise, and I’m talking to you Adam, stop wasting your time with this nonsense and get back to making your movie.


Filed under Copyright


  1. db

    Q: I once worked on a show for HBO. Scene set in a hotel room. They shot it in an actual hotel- and our set people came in and had to remove/replace anything with the hotel logo on it. Even the “how to evac in case of fire” instructions on the back of the hotel room door had to be removed and replaced w/one created by the show. All the paintings that you ordinarily see in a hotel were taken off the wall, and replaced with ones made by the art design PA. HBO has no sponsors, and the crew were all of the firm belief that this was bc the hotel did not give permission to let the show use their name/ trademarks. is there a difference if you are shooting at a location, as opposed to using a band name?


    • Larry Zerner

      It was probably a condition of the location agreement that they couldn’t show the logos. Or the producers just didn’t want to set the scene specifically at a Hilton or whatever. With regard to the paintings, that’s different. Those are covered by copyright and so usually must be cleared or removed from the scene.


  2. I am late to the party on this chat but just discovered it after reading one of your other posts. I think in terms of giving filmmakers advice (especially in the independent world), you may be underestimating the risk of the “baseless” claim. I’ve seen it happen. The risk is there regardless of whether or not you are using the product in an “unusual way”. Maybe the claim would be defended by E&O coverage depending on the policy, but not sure there is any reason (other than to be a proud defender of the First Amendment) to take on that risk unless the use is important from a creative standpoint. The risk may increase if either the political content of the picture or program, or the genre, violence or sexual content, is offensive to the tastes or marketing intentions of the trademark owner, etc.


    • Larry Zerner


      The practice of not showing clothing logos is purely something that came out of television because they did not want to upset potential sponsors. But there is no legal reason to to cover up the Nike Swoosh on your shoes no matter the contents of the program. It is not a trademark infringement even if someone wears Nike’s in a porn movie. Filmmakers should not be so scared of a lawsuit that they waste time on this nonsense instead of working on improving their movie. And that’s why you always get E&O insurance, to take care of the baseless claim.


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  4. Don Raymond

    Larry it’s called “Greeking” in the Industry(as in “it’s all Greek to me”) & it pre-dates reality tv, as I understand it it’s supposedly a way to put value on product placement deals, & the practice was started on dramatic tv shows, movies & sitcoms so as not to offend program sponsors(one of the dumber examples I can think of is Arnold’s toy lemon loco from the “Small Claims” episode of “Diff’rent Strokes” has the 6-8057 CB&Q O-gauge “Way Of The Zephyrs” SW-1 switcher greeked out even tho it’s clearly a Lionel locomotive. It may even be a legal in-joke since the “Burlington” was the railroad that employed legendary tort lawyer Gerry Spence’s father & seems to draw @ least one negative story in every book he writes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fkt1hYbbsso

    Another odd aside is the very product-placement conscious film producers the Salkinds(they got grief over the Marlboro cigarette plugs in “Superman 2”) have 2 would-be rapist truckers wearing A&W Root Beer and STP shirts in “Supergirl” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx9zm8WmYLk


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