How to determine when you should blur a company logo

In a nutshell

  • Videographers typically don’t need permission to feature trademarks in videos, but must consider potential trademark dilution, as well as advertisement opportunities and sponsors.
  • Including brand logos without compensation can be seen as free advertising, potentially conflicting with production sponsorships or inadvertently promoting competitors.
  • Blurring or removing logos in post-production can avoid legal issues, with various techniques available in editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro or use online tools services.

Shooting videos involves many things. If you don’t have a controlled studio to shoot in, you’re undoubtedly going to run into objects with logos on them — be it the interior of a store or out on the street. Whether you’re a documentary filmmaker, journalist or online video producer, you must be aware when a brand’s logo pops up in your shots.

Let’s discuss the various situations where you may need to blur company logos in your shots, as well as times when you can keep them. We’ll also talk about how to blur logos and go over some alternatives.

What is a trademark?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. Basically, a trademark is a brand’s logo — its market identity. We all know a trademark when we see it. Coca-Cola and Marlboro are the most famous marks in the world.

In addition to printed material, trademarks can be sounds, like the tick-tock sound of the 60 Minutes T.V. program or the roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine. Even colors, like purple Owens-Corning building insulation, can be trademarked to distinguish a product from other products.

Registered trademarks can be, and usually are, printed or displayed with an encircled R – ® – to indicate they have been registered in the USPTO. If they haven’t been registered, a superscript T.M. or S.M. suggests the mark’s owner considers it to be proprietary and has certain common law rights.

Is it illegal to feature a copyrighted trademark in your video?

Can you show trademarks in your videos? It really depends. According to entertainment attorney Lisa Callif, “You typically don’t need to clear trademarks.” In her Bloomberg Law post, she gives the example of a character in a film wearing a Lakers jersey. Do you need to get permission from the NBA to use its logo? She says that the usual answer to this question is “no.”

So, does that mean you can feature any copyrighted logo you want in your videos? Not necessarily. Callif outlines that for a party to succeed in a trademark infringement claim, the usage must “create confusion among the relevant consumers.” In a wide majority of cases, simply showing a Pepsi logo in the background of your shot isn’t going to create consumer confusion.

What is more likely to happen is trademark dilution, which Callif describes as when a “trademark is tarnished.” “Trademark dilution protects ‘famous marks’ from being weakened by blurring or tarnishment by third-party uses,” Callif writes, “A trademark is tarnished when the mark ‘is linked to products of shoddy quality, or is portrayed in an unwholesome or unsavory context,’ or if the trademark loses its ability to serve as a ‘wholesome identifier’ of plaintiff’s product.”

Say your video featured a car from one of the major car brands, and it ends up breaking down during a car chase. That could be viewed as tarnishing the car brand’s reliability. Overall, trademark dilution is a lot more difficult to determine. So, to be safe, videographers either blur the logos or remove any copyrighted trademarks from their shots to avoid any potential legal action from the holder.

If you’re wondering if it’s trademark dilution, ask yourself whether your display of someone else’s trademark in your video will harm the trademark owner. If no harm will occur, you don’t get permission from the trademark owner.

But there’s more to it

While avoiding any potential lawsuits for trademark dilution, videographers avoid showing brand logos. But there are other reasons why you may want to avoid them. Sometimes, it’s actually in your best interest or your producer’s best interest to blur out products. Why is that? It all comes down to advertisements and sponsors.

Whenever you include a brand logo in your videos, it’s advertisement for the company, whether the company paid for it or not. So, many production companies will want the companies to pay for the inclusion of their logo. After all, why would you give free advertisement to a company when they may be willing to pay for it?

In the same vein, if you already have a brand sponsoring your video, that brand wouldn’t likely want you showing competitors’ logos. For example, suppose you were shooting a YouTube video where you were taste-testing soda, and it’s sponsored by Coca-Cola. In that case, you’d likely have to blur or remove any instances of the Pepsi logo or any other competing soda brands. Sponsors never want to give free advertising to their competitors. Also, featuring competitors’ products runs the risk of reminding the audience that it has a choice and could point out your competitor’s advantages. If you like having sponsors, we recommend not highlighting their competitors.

How to blur

Most of the time, you won’t need to blur logos in your videos. In the cases that you do, most productions opt to physically remove the product from the frame rather than blur it. It saves time in post-production. However, sometimes, it’s quicker to blur a logo than it is to reshoot the scene. Note that blurring isn’t always appropriate, depending on the type of video you’re making. For instance, if you were to blur a logo in your cinematic movie, it would be out of place and come off as amateurish. Now, if you were to blur a logo in the background of your vlog for YouTube, no one would bat an eye. Consider your project’s tone and intended audience before you blur.

Blurring with Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe Premiere Pro is a software program that runs on both PCs and Mac computers. You can use it to create a blurring effect and blur out any unwanted logos or trademarks. This will work whether the logo is moving/not moving in the video. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Place your footage featuring the unwanted logo in your timeline.
  2. Go to the Effects panel and type Gaussian Blur into the search box.
  3. Drag the Gaussian Blur effect onto the video clip.
  4. Under Effects control, make sure the clip is at the beginning.
  5. Select the shape of the mask to use — circle, square, etc.
  6. Position the mask over the logo and use candles to resize it to fit as best possible.
  7. Increase the blurring intensity to the amount desired.
  8. Go to Settings and select Previews Enabled
  9. Press the Track Forward button to begin tracking the video.
  10. Play the video clip back after tracking is done.
  11. Increase the mask’s feather to provide a smoother look.

Blurring online

Another option is to use an online service through a web browser, for example, FIXLIER, which works on PCs/Macs/Chromebooks. While no account is required, be sure to read any privacy/related conditions as they pertain to placing your content on their servers. The procedure for FIXLIER is as follows:

  1. Begin by uploading the video you want to blur to your account’s library.
  2. Go to the Shapes menu and select a square mask.
  3. Drag the mask over the area you want to blur.
  4. Select the effect (blur) and set a time frame for how long the blurring will be dragging the mask on the timeline.
  5. Activate the process and wait for it to be completed.
  6. Export the now blurred video back to your local storage.

Blurring isn’t always appropriate, depending on the project. As an alternative to blurring, it’s possible to mask/hide the logo entirely using Adobe Premiere Pro. For this to work, the area around the logo must be consistent. Don’t try to clone an area that changes while the blur is active. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Make a duplicate of the video clip on the timeline.
  2. Paste the duplicate clip onto the timeline.
  3. Drag this new clip over onto the original clip.
  4. Select the Create 4-point Polygon Mask tool.
  5. Place the mask over the area you want duplicate over the logo — adjust the tool so that it replicates the logo’s shape.
  6. Drag the mask over the logo.

No permission needed — most of the time

In most cases, you are safe to display trademarks associated with products in your videos. No permission from the trademark owner is necessary. In fact, trademarked products placed in major motion pictures can represent valuable advertising for companies.

There are really only two reasons to blur a trademark in your video. 1) You are showing the trademark in an unsavory light, or 2) the trademark owner refuses to pay you for placing the product in your production. In other words, you only need to blur a logo if including it would harm the trademark owner or keep you from earning more money.

Contributors to this article include Marshal Rosenthal and Mark Levy.

Marshal Rosenthal
Marshal Rosenthal
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture. Past accomplishments include editing of home theater and video gaming publications domestic and international, operating a NY photographic studio specializing in children/product and providing graphic imaging for video game box art, manuals and related.

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