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Mentioning A College In A Film

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by MovieMan81, Dec 21, 2016.

  1. MovieMan81

    MovieMan81 Law Topic Starter Guest

    Jurisdiction:
    Ohio
    I am putting together a miniseries for YouTube. I want part of the series to take place on a local campus. Am I infringing on a copyright or trademark by simply mentioning the name of the college as a location in my show? I would also like to have name typed out in standard text as a subtitle. Would this be a form of infringement?
     
  2. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Based upon your post, the answer is, what you plan to do wouldn't violate any copyright laws.

    However, if you wish 100% certainty you're going to be legit, it would be prudent to hire a lawyer to provide you with a written legal opinion.
    What I've told you isn't legal advice, even though I'm a lawyer, because we have no attorney-client relationship.
     
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  3. MovieMan81

    MovieMan81 New Member

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    Okay, thank you! I appreciate it. I was thinking, since I am putting my best into this series and wanting to monetize and go commercial with it that I would probably do well to go ahead and get legal advice from an attorney. I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my question.
     
  4. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Generally those letters cost about $500, give or take.
    Anyway, as you said, money's on the line. Don't be stupid, be smart. I wish you much success professionally and monetarily.

    You're welcome, mate.
     
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  5. hrforme

    hrforme Active Member

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    If their legal department finds out about it, I would expect some blowback regardless of infringement if you don't have permission to use their name or location.

    Why is it important to name the specific (real) college? For some reason you want to use their brand to monetize your project -- to get more hits, etc? if they are that popular, they will want to protect their brand/name.

    Real producers do their legwork, get permission, insurance and legal matters taken care of BEFORE rather than hoping for no consequences afterwards. You could put lots of time, energy and money into your project, only to end up in a lawsuit with an injunction until the fate can be decided., which many not end in your favor if they can prove any type of damages to their name/brand. Definitely speak with a local attorney about your plans first.
     
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  6. ElleMD

    ElleMD Well-Known Member

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    Good idea on the attorney. Colleges are very sensitive to how their names are used.
     
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  7. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    There are quite a number of issues - consider trademark. Here's an extreme example. A rapist is going around campus terrorizing women and 3 murders occur. What college or university wants to be named as the place where the fictional crime happens? Even if you feel that a screenplay is laudatory, the school may have a different opinion. But most of all, they want to have full control over the way they are portrayed. And let's not forget that they usually like to be compensated. :)

    If you're an amateur film maker, perhaps you're better off going the Faber College route as in Animal House, a fictional but certainly memorable institution of higher education. :)
     
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  8. MovieMan81

    MovieMan81 New Member

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    Thank you all for your replies! Basically I am making a miniseries about aliens from Mars trying to take over planet Earth, and I use this fictional premise as a platform to suggest the value of the diversity in our various cultures around the planet. I want to use places that people will recognize from urban legends. Since I live next to WPAFB and work at Wright State University I wanted to make reference to both locations. I'm sure there's an office at Wright State that I could ask about publicity and such, but do you think the same thing applies to the Air Force Base? I thought that public institutions, and places like the White House, would be public domain. That's why I theorized that a state university might be the same.
     
  9. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    Making reference to a local place is one thing, e.g. "Here we are on set just down the block from the Starbucks on 7th and 27th Street across from FIT." Those are facts and landmarks. I think that from your original statement we had the impression that you might be filming on campus when I think you just meant a specific location which you're calling a "campus." Just be aware that most of the answers regarding film and intellectual property rights can be complicated and fact specific. The only way to get a useful legal opinion is to have all the details of usage stated in their entirety.
     
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  10. MovieMan81

    MovieMan81 New Member

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    I'm doing both actually. (I am definitely going to have to get a lawyer in any case, but...) I got permission to film on campus but I portrayed it as a completely different fictional location. Now I'm wanting to film on campus and CALL it "on campus". I sent an email to someone at the university asking for some advice on this so that should work itself out. I think I understand though, thanks to you all, that making a reference to a place, filming at a place, and showing their trademarked or copyrighted logo on screen are all different situations. I learned when I had a radio show on campus that although I'm not a trained professional, because I am passionate about the art and put my best into, people tend not to perceive me as being an amateur even though I see myself as such. I am learning that I simply don't fly under the radar like I used to so I have to hold myself to higher standards than other people. I ALWAYS get into noticed if I have something not totally right. So, that's why I'm seeking advice. I've had partnerships before, like when I had a radio show, so it's probably best to do it that way and know outright that everyone is in agreement with everything. Thanks again for the feedback! It helps to have people to bounce stuff off of.
     
  11. hrforme

    hrforme Active Member

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    And I would caution being extra careful if you are also an employee of the institution and conflict of interest. If you end up bringing negative publicity, even without bad intentions and approval by the powers that be, you could lose your main job. Are you willing to risk it? I think that being upfront is the best way to go and accept a "NO" if you are given one.

    (My daughter has one more semester before she graduates from Film School in Production at one of the most prestigious public institutions in the US and there is so much depth to this situation that could cause you pitfalls. She took many classes and did many films/projects both on campus and off and had all sorts of hoops to jump through and she was a student IN their program. A few times our business has gotten requests to be a film location for reality shows and we've always read their agreement and said NO each time because it didn't benefit us equally. I do suggest having a written Use Agreement also. There are free ones on the internet, but it is something I would discuss with that attorney).
     
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  12. ElleMD

    ElleMD Well-Known Member

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    I'm on a campus that has been used many times as the scene in movies and TV. There have also been a number that have used our name, but not our campus. Sometimes it has been with our name and sometimes "Fictional U". It does get very complicated. It has nothing to do with how well known you are. In this day and age of Youtube and its ilk, anyone can get an audience. We have had both. There are shows you would have to be living under a rock not to have heard of, and others that were probably only viewed by the creator's mother. All are treated the same. There may also be state laws that govern the use of campuses.
     
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