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When a big action movie is being prepped in Hollywood, often producers will bulk up their budget by wrangling product placement deals that will essentially advertise to movie audiences about the flashy new car the hero is driving, the tasty beverage he's enjoying or the cool new kicks he's sporting. Product placement has become so prevalent that when audiences see a logo or recognize a brand name they might immediately assume the film's producers scored such an ad deal. However, a dispute has arisen between Anheuser-Busch and Paramount Pictures that shows companies have less control over their representation in cinema than you might suspect.
The AP has discovered Anheuser-Busch is unhappy with how Budweiser beer is shown within Robert Zemeckis' latest drama Flight. In the film Denzel Washington stars as a high-functioning alcoholic, who over the course of the narrative imbibes plenty of booze, often irresponsibly. And this is where Anheuser-Busch, which never licensed the use of their product, takes issue, particularly in a scene where Washington's under fire pilot is drinking a Bud while driving. As such, Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser, has released the following statement:
"We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. 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."
William Grant & Sons, the distributor of Stolichnaya vodka in the U.S., is similarly displeased, saying they did not license the use of the product and would not have had they been asked. However, experts say neither company has much legal recourse here. First off, studios are not required to acquire permission before featuring a product in their production. Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project explains, "[Trademark laws] don't exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items."
Past examples of law suits that went nowhere for their plaintiffs include the makers of Slip 'N Slide suing over the backyard game's inclusion in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, and Caterpillar Inc.'s attempt to force producers to remove their logo from the villain-driven tractors in George in the Jungle 2. So it's unlikely William Grant & Sons or Anheuser-Busch will sue and more likely they want their disapproval on record. However, Anheuser-Busch's wish to see their logo obscured will probably go ungranted, since caving to this request would surely lead to other brands represented therein, demanding similar censoring.
Neither the filmmakers nor Paramount have issued a statement about this dispute.