Should Paramount obscure the Budweiser logo in the movie 'Flight'?

Even tho this is a question pertaining to a film, I think it’s actually more of a debate, so I’m posting in GD; of course, Mods, if you think it’s more appropriate for CS, please move it.

Denzel Washington’s latest film, Flight opened last weekend to some good numbers: US$25 million. It’s also received mostly positive reviews, sitting at 77% at Rotten Tomatoes, with 80% audience approval so far.

The film concerns a crash landing after a midair event, and since everyone survives, the pilot (Washington) is hailed as a hero. The problem is, he’s an alcoholic. And as time goes by, the events of the flight and the crash landing are called into question. I have no idea how it ends because I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s what I get from reading plot synopses.

Anyway, Washington’s character is seen drinking throughout much of the movie, and now it seems that Anheuser-Busch has sent a letter to Paramount Pictures asking them to remove or blur the Budweiser logo in the film.


Budweiser isn’t the only alcoholic beverage shown in the film, tho no other manufacturer has yet asked to have their logo obscured.

Does Anheuser-Busch have valid concerns?

Should Paramount acquiesce?

Should film companies, as a matter of policy, refuse to show real world products being misused or utilized in bad ways?

If Paramount doesn’t acquiesce, do they leave themselves open for a defamation lawsuit? Would they lose such a case?

No. The standard for defamation of a public figure is “actual malice”, which is really, really hard to prove. In the case of a defamation claim based on a highly publicized product, it would be very difficult for Anheuser-Bush InBev or whatever it’s called now to claim it wasn’t a public figure.

Absolute(ly). They are a media company. Product tie-ins are a source of revenue. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

What about trademark/copyright infringement?

There is a fair use doctrine for trademarks in film, but I’m not really qualified to explain it. AIUI, trademark dilution claims require the product to be prominently featured (like Barbie in the song Barbie Girl.)

It depends. I would have to see the actual film and how prominently Budweiser is shown.

If it seems like Budweiser is much more prominent than any other brand, than I can see why they’d be upset. It might have an effect on their sales, and only their sales. Nobody wants their brand, regardless of product, to be unfairly associated with something negative.

Even that one didn’t stick.

Mattel v. MCA Records

Figured it must be something like that. I wonder though…

Could you see an argument that the general pervasiveness and notoriety of product endorsements in movies argues that Paramount showing the logo implies that they had InBev’s permission? Would this change either the fair use threshold or make it easier to prove malice? The argument being “Hey, every time they want money, they make us pay to show our product. Now that they are misusing our product, they don’t even bother to contact us? They were trying to screw us over.” I could see a reasonable person assuming that the only way they would have shown the Bud label is if they had Bud’s permission.

Some do, some don’t. As a matter of free speech, I am glad that some film companies don’t chicken out in this way.

I doubt very much that there is any public figure issue here, although that would be an interesting argument to see a court entertain. The real issue here would be that there is no actual defamation. Bud is an alcoholic drink. People who drink alcohol can get into trouble. There is no (false) suggestion that Bud itself has done something improper.

No, it’s not either kind of infringement. If you want more details on why, I can try to take some time to construct a detailed response.

No, this is not a winning argument. There’s a decision regarding the use of Caterpillar vehicles by villains in—hm, I think George of the Jungle 2—the court said that it was so obvious that Caterpillar wouldn’t have considered this a flattering use of their product that no one could reasonably believe it was an endorsement.

I’ve seen the film. His character is a very equal-opportunity drunk, and while he drinks a lot of beer, his preferred drink is vodka. In the context of the movie, beer is for when when he’s trying to keep it together.

The only reason I’ve ever seen a movie or show blur out a logo or “Greek” it out (making sure the logo is not actually seen on camera) is to avoid free advertizing, or running afoul of agreements they have with their advertisers, who might be competitors of the shown product. Unless, of course, the original was specifically a part of an advertizing deal. And, nowadays, I more expect that to be digitally switched to a different advertiser instead of blurred out. Blurring looks stupid.

“Hey guys, did you know you can get drunk on Budweiser? And all this time, I was drinking it for the taste.”

The extreme example, Repo Man, shows what happens if you avoid all mention of brands. Doesn’t work for drama.

Whatever happened to cans of BEER (in sorta-Budweiser colors), BEER (in sorta-Coors colors), and the other pseudo-brand props of days gone by.

Heh. Reminds me of something I heard back when CAST AWAY came out: on the one hand, you’re rooting for Tom Hanks as the likable everyman protagonist who thinks the world of his well-coordinated employer; on the other hand, FedEx is built around the fact that, every once in a while, a plane just sort of plummets into the sea.

I just saw a “Diet Cola” on The Big Bang Theory that looked to all but the most discerning eye exactly like a Diet Coke. So pseudo brands are going strong. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t just get money from Coca-Cola for product placement since they’re pseudo-advertising them anyway.

Even then, FedEx looked for Hanks (whatever his character name was) and then did as right by him as they could when he was rescued. The explanation for what happened to the plane was a hand-wave mislabeled cargo that put no blame on FedEx and vaguely recalled the Valuejet debacle; and you had to remember your aviation history to know that. I am sure FedEx only agreed to play such a large role in the movie because they were shown in a good light. It could very easily have been a generic delivery company, the story really was about the Hanks character and his isolation.

Even though Bud may not have the best legal footing, I can see why movie studios may not want to anatognize one of the biggest ad dollar spending industries - you can be sure other alcohol companies are watching closely.

Interestingly, no money seems to have changed hands either way; FedEx apparently agreed without either being paid or paying for product placement.

Next up:

Ford gets pissy about an out-of-control Mustang driving off a cliff during a car chase.

“But our product has traction-control and superior handling! No way in hell the driver would go off the road in a* Mustang*!”

Ah, but Repo Man wasn’t being cheap; Alex Cox was making commentary on society throughout the film, and having every food product be generic was a part of that commentary.