Saturday, November 1, 2008
Celebrity Trademarks and Documentary Rights
I'm so glad you asked. The short answer is "probably not." As a general rule, you can use a trademark (or celebrity's name) for editorial or informational purposes without infringing. Such uses do not require permission because they inform, educate, or express opinions protected under the First Amendment. For example, "Super Size" is a trademark of a big burger conglom and is used in the title of a documentary. (Speaking of documentaries that use McTrademarks, the Dear Rich staff really loved "McLibel"). "Sinatra" is also a federally registered trademark and is used in documentary titles; ditto for James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The laws protecting celebrity names and likenesses only go so far and you will likely run into problems if you sell goods or services using the celebrity's name or image, or if you imply the endorsement of the celebrity for any goods or services.