Drawing a blank

The IPKat's friend Richard Pringle (Shell) asks a non-work-related question, which has lots of ramifications:
"Could you please tell me, or point me in the direction where I might find out, why trade marks (and other IP) are often blanked out or avoided in other ways in films, TV shows, advertisements, etc?
E.g. the Apple logo is often blanked out on its laptops in advertisements for car insurance and many other things. The same occurs in a house-buying TV show when the participants sit at home and “watch it on the laptop”. I assume the design of the laptop (which is visible and recognisable) is a registered design, even if it’s not a registered TM; but with that level of recognition it could be registered as a TM. In car insurance advertisements, I’ve seen representations of cars with their badges removed; I’ve also seen invented representations of cars that look like a hybrid of a variety of identifiable models from different manufactures, the end result being arguably damaging to allure of the component cars. In a film I recently saw (Fish Tank), the producers had gone to the trouble of using made-up alcohol branding for all the cans and bottles in the film (scenes of alcohol abuse were portrayed in this film, but only as small element of the whole film).

What about exhaustion of rights or any of the other reasons why this type of use (if it went ahead) could be said not to be infringing use, or any of the defences to infringement?"
The IPKat is no admirer of the restrictions placed on product placement which, even though they have been lifted somewhat in Europe, still seem misplaced and arbitrary. Viewers in the United States have been exposed to the phenomenon for decades with no apparent ill-effects, and since commercial advertisements are part of our everyday life it has always seemed to him to be pointless and misconceived to blank them out of TV productions. Merpel agrees and adds: if for the sake of reality they don't blank out swear-words or nudity, it seems silly to blot out Apple logos, doesn't it? Tufty says, I'd like to do some reverse product-placement, like threatening to dress a really obnoxious character in a popular brand unless the brand owner pays me to blank it out!

The Truman Show here
How to draw a blank here
Check out the brands that aren't blocked out on BrandChannel's Brand Cameo
Drawing a blank Drawing a blank Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, October 29, 2009 Rating: 5


  1. Maybe they tried to get cash off of the various companies in the first place for product placement, and when they refused to pay up they just blanked out all the logos out of spite...

  2. Some possible reasons:

    1. Product endorsement [was] not allowed or restricted on UK TV - eg American Idol has big Coke cups next to each of the judges (presumably paid for by Coke) but these were blanked out when shown on UK TV.

    2. US product endorsement is big business for TV companies, so nobody gets it for free.

    3. [Unlikely?:] fears of TM infringement.

  3. sometimes it is just a "image" thing - you want to associate with whatever is going on or not, or

    may be you would not want to use the relevant IPs (specifically, TMs)without the necessary permissions either

  4. I don't think they are blanked out through spite, but because if the production company can charge to show the logos then it would be daft to do so for free.

  5. I think it's at least partly a copyright question. The laws of incidental inclusion etc are unhelpfully restrictive. If copyright subsists in the logo, then the incidental inclusion defence is a very weak defence. (Remember the FA v Panini case?) That is a law that is ripe for reform - the only reason it (sort of) works at the moment is that people don't bother to sue under it - but a problem arises when somebody wants to cause trouble and spots a nicely restrictive law like that...

  6. OFCOM advertising restrictions on product placement probably.

  7. Agreed re product placement in the UK. Also agree it is probably a little to do with the fact that if people pay for it then why give it for free.

    You will notice on Eastenders that the mobile phones always seem to be Samsung telephones... so it has been going on under the radar.

    I think TM infringement is an issue though. I think many advertisers (or agencies) are concerned that if they show a badge too prominently then there may be some suggestion of affiliation. Having been paid quite a bit over the years to check such things out, I am not complaining!

  8. Richard Pringle's question appears to assume that the brands are blanked out due to fear of infringement, but I think the Kat hints at the right answer in his reply; namely, that there are restrictions on product placement advertising.

    I like Tufty's suggestion, but wonder whether it might fall foul of Article 7(2) of the Directive (89/104/EEC) :-)

  9. Ironically on the day that this was posted, the German State culture ministers decided to allow product placement (officially) on German commercial TV but to place substantial restrictions on the public broadcasting services ARD and ZDF. However, as one of the other commentators has pointed out, product placement has been going on unofficially for years - and it is not just Samsung phones.

  10. I agree with Anonymous'take on affliation. I can somewhat render only the Indian perspective though...

    Most news channels in India either blank out or use the channel sticker on the logo area. The reason I understand for this is..

    a. not let the logo acquire increased repute or recognition amongst viewers for free.. i.e. advertising only for a fee be allowed
    b. No one wants to be permanently associated with a particular brand... perception hurdles regarding the brand may also effecct teh channel perhaps..(may be too far fetched a thought!!!)

    However, the film Industry (Bollywood) at the moment uses a lot of brands since its corporatization and due credit for the same is given as "partners" or a terminology having a similar connotation.


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