Saturday, May 22, 2010

FILMMAKING: Covering Your Butt

So I am going to make a short film featuring the 1966 Mustang that I built for my wife. We paid cash for the car, it's titled and registered in her name, and I worked on it countless hours rebuilding it, replacing parts, and customizing it. My DNA is on the car in the form of skin and blood from my knuckles. I even created some new cuss words while working on it. So why the heck would I need to check in with Ford Motor Company for permission to use our own car in the film?

This post is about legalities that we need to consider when making a film that, as unreasonable as they may seem, we have to think about and check up on to make sure we are not violating anyone's trademark, copyright, or other rights.

Back in 2006 the Ford Motor Company mortgaged most of their assets in order to raise enough money to restructure the company. Popularly quoted articles usually mention that this includes the famous "Blue Oval." As part of the agreement of mortgaging these assets Ford Motor Company is required to dilligently defend the trademarks that have been used as collateral. As a result, you really need to be following the trademark laws to the "T".

In 2008 a Mustang club was going to make a calendar of the member's cars. When Ford read about this on their forum they were contacted and told that this was not allowed because they would be violating Ford's trademark on the Ford and Mustang names and logos if used to make a profit by selling calendars with these logos pictured in them, even though the members owned these cars. Particularly, the "running pony" emblem of the Mustang is trademarked and it cannot be reproduced in images for the sake of profitting from them.

In the end the club was allowed to make the calendars as long as they were only paying manufacturing costs to produce the calendars for themselves. However, the manufacturer that they had lined up to make the calendars chose not to make them for the purposes of elliminating any possible legal issues with Ford.

So I contacted Ford via email. I was referred to their "Team Detroit" organization ( I told them I was looking to make a movie with a 1966 Mustang in it to enter into film festivals. I was not looking to sell the film, just exhibit my abilities and hopefully get noticed, and maybe win a prize. They were very helpful. They informed me that as long as I wasn't making anything that was defaming the Ford or Mustang names, or otherwise painting them in a very ill light, it was fine to make a movie with the car in it. I had also asked if I needed to mask any logos and was told I did not need to.

This email is now archived and I am holding onto it for legal purposes. It's nice to have it in writing.

Normally, I never would have given this a thought. However, my involvement at automotive message boards made me aware of this situation and it came in handy for me to know so that I could inquire about this issue. So before you just plod on ahead with your project, think like a lawyer and look to see if there are any issues you need to look in to. It might keep you from breaking your budget with an unexpected legal fee.

- Steve Olander

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  1. Fascinating read - can't wait to see this project moving along - and the NEW camera buddy - lol - you ARE HOOKED lol!

  2. Bit bad by the filmmaking bug, or is that good? As fun as the filmmaking process is it's a reality that we have to step back and consider these things. Had I not known about the calendar issue I never would have thought that PROPERTY that we own was STILL subject to trademark issues. I never would have believed it!

  3. I just read the post on using your own car possibly being a risk legally. This was really a surprise to me. Believing when you buy something you have the right to photograph it, etc., whether for public use or private use. I think of all the cars used in the multi movies out there and I'm amazed, especially the part about painting the car in a detrimental manner. Makes me wonder if all those cars, painted outlandishly or not, had the emblems removed. Rather pointless as most car buffs and car lovers would recognize the brand of car anyway. And what is the difference in all those cars painted with subjects of sex, devils, violence and so on? You can paint it any way you want to, but don't take a picture of it!!! Or film it etc. When the car is driven in public, wouldn't that also cause comment (especially those with extreme subject matter) and cause concern among the car makers? What about all those tv shows made in the auto paint shops? They name the car many times, show the sketches, and the process of painting the images on the car. I agree with the article that you should always take precautions but I am stunned that the carmaker would have any say so.

  4. OH yes Shirl' - I guess that's something I forget or didn't think the general public would not know - and I guess some young filmmakers might not know - ANY product - one has to make sure the label is covered or blurred out - or positioned so the viewer cannot see it - unless the company allows in WRITTEN form that their logo can be used - that even goes for coke cans - in our webseries we positioned ALL products so the labels could not be seen - and on the first movie we had to black out the Chevy logo on the truck and cover all the labels on the computers - we actually contacted the computer company of the computer in our movie - ask if we had to cover their logo - they said yes until/unless they had their legal team look over the script and the final footage of movie. So there ya go - NO LOGOs of any sort - you'll even see sometime people wearing the Tshirts inside out so the maker of the T-shirt can't file a lawsuit. Same with music - if a car is driving down the road - you'll notice all Indie films having some song on the radio that's never really been heard - because the people who own the BIG songs will sue the pants of ya if you don't BUY the rights to use their song. It's all about the money - and - COKE or PEPSI don't want their logo on/in some movie that says that the drink is laced with poison lol. Just watch shows more closely and you'll see - unless some big named people are in it or a big Hollywood pic - even in the grocery store - the labels are all turned or it's filled with brands like - COLA - or CEREAL lol.