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Fair Use Question of the Month: Displaying Corporate Ads and Logos in Documentary

VegetablesIn this month's fair use question, a documentary filmmaker expresses her concerns about displaying advertisements and logos from a grocery store on screen.

Dear CSM:

I'm making a documentary on an organic grocery store in my community that is actually "far-from-green."  I hope to include images of their newspaper ads, focusing on disputable claims. I might have to show the whole ad. Is that a problem? Also, I have filmed in front of the store, and clearly show its logo. Is that an issue?  And what about all the products that we show on the shelves on outside displays? 



Dear Maria,

You need to employ fair use in this situation. Documentary filmmakers have come to a consensus about how to employ fair use in situations like yours. "Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practice in Fair Use" is worth reading. 

Section one of the code, "Employing Copyrighted Materials as the Object of Social, Political, or Cultural Critique," relates to your concern.  Your re-use of the material for a critical purpose makes it eligible for fair use. The limitations listed in section one make clear when you would go beyond fair use. You do have a right to use the amount you need to accomplish your critical purpose, even if it's 100% of the material. 

You don't need to concern yourself about capturing the logos of companies, even ones you are harshly criticizing. Trademark law would apply, and trademark law doesn't concern itself with this kind of use. Check the Center's "Yes You Can" document for more information.