With all the media attention on the settlement reached between Sean Combs/P. Diddy and Louis Vuitton, I thought this would be a good opportunity to blog about the potential risks of unauthorized product placements.
General Rule about Product Placements
Putting brand name products in your films and other creative products raises trademark questions. Several court rulings say the unauthorized appearance of a brand-name product in your production is okay as long as the appearance does not (i) tarnish the product’s reputation, (ii) draw on the goodwill associated with the product, or (iii) mislead people to believe that the product manufacturer has endorsed or sponsored the production.
However, even if you meet those standards, it doesn’t mean the trademark owner will not still initiate legal action against you if it views your treatment of its trademark as negative.
In the Sean Combs case . . .
Louis Vuitton objected to the appearance of its products and trademarks in videos and album art for Danity Kane, a group released through Combs’ Bad Boy Records label. As part of the settlement agreement, Combs agreed to remove all visual references to the Louis Vuitton trademarks from future releases of the videos and album
A Few Unknowns (at least to me) and Caveats about Louis Vuitton/Sean Combs Case:
I have not seen the Danity Kane videos and album art so I can’t comment on the extent to which they feature Louis Vuitton products.
The case was filed in France. I haven’t located a copy of the original complaint so thanks in advance to anyone who wants to forward me a copy or link. Anyway, I presume that the case would not have been decided under United States law.
Since Combs decided it was more advantageous to settle, we won’t find out whether a court would have ruled that the use of the Louis Vuitton products was improper.
So while the Louis Vuitton-Sean Combs settlement is not authoritative, the lesson for creative types to take away is that using other people’s trademarks can carry consequences. While, in many circumstances, you may have a First Amendment right to use the trademark, you do want to consider the risks and perhaps seek legal guidance before incorporating trademarks into your music, films, domain names, and other creative endeavors.