Big alcohol has an important message for Denzel Washington: Please fly responsibly.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD), the beverage giant behind Budweiser beer, has asked Paramount Pictures (Nasdaq: VIAB) to remove or obscure the beer’s logo from the new movie “Flight,” according to a Monday report by the Associated Press.
The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, stars Washington as a booze-guzzling, cocaine-sniffing pilot who manages to steer a plane to safety during a crash. Washington’s character is seen drinking Budweiser along with various other brands of alcohol throughout the film, which includes one scene in which he drinks and drives. However, the company that makes the self-proclaimed King of Beers thinks such behavior sends the wrong message about its product.
In a statement to the AP, Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser, wrote that the beer company was never contacted by Paramount or Zemeckis’ production company for permission to feature Budweiser in the film.
“We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving,” the statement said. “We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters.”
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William Grant & Sons, the U.S. distributor of Stolichnaya vodka -- another brand Washington’s character is seen drinking -- also asked Paramount to obscure its logo.
A spokesperson for Paramount said the studio has declined to comment.
Under the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law, filmmakers are permitted in certain contexts to use trademarked logos without the owner’s permission. However, the doctrine is notoriously vague. The law protects fair use of copyrighted material for the purposes of satire or social commentary but not outright trademark infringement, which is often open to interpretation. Still, while Paramount could find itself embroiled in a lengthy legal battle if it does not acquiesce, Anheuser-Busch may ultimately have the more difficult task of proving that the scenes in question have damaged its brand. Many copyright cases involving fair use are settled out of court, and often they begin and end with a cease-and-desist letter.
Cases involving alleged unauthorized product placement are nothing new for the movie business. Earlier this year, the French fashion house Louis Vuitton sued Warner Bros. Pictures (NYSE: TWX) over a knockoff handbag featured in the comedy “The Hangover II.” The company argued that the bag, which was marked LVM, harmed its brand, as is it was manufactured by a Chinese-American company and not by Louis Vuitton. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in June, saying the complaint would not hold up against the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
“Flight” opened to mostly positive reviews on Nov. 2, taking in $25 million in its opening weekend. Washington is considered an Oscar contender for his performance.