How would one stop a company from using footage of your property in their TV ad campaign?
October 25, 2004 6:42 PM   Subscribe

How would one stop a company from using footage of your property in their TV ad campaign? [MI]

Several years ago a Major Brewing Company contacted my grandparents to ask permission to film their mountain cabin for use in a beer ad. I'm not sure whether they offered money, but my grandparents replied that they did not have permission. My grandparents have passed on and my immediate family now own the cabin. Since then, several friends and family members have recognized the
cabin in an ad by this Major Brewing Company. Can we do anything about this?

I don't even know how we can respond to this - we don't have copies of the ads, don't know the exact airing dates, and don't know which ad company made them. I find the whole thing offensive, as I particularly dislike this company anyway (nothing against beer) and they went ahead when they were specifically denied permission.

Do we own any kind of "image rights" on our cabin? It's not famous or anything like that. Do we have any recourse? If we asked the Major Brewing Company to make a donation to our favorite charity, would they?

One complication is that they probably filmed the footage from US Forest Service property.
posted by schoolgirl report to Law & Government (13 answers total)
IANALY (I am not a lawyer yet)

I'm guessing state law would normally control here, the fact that they filmed from federal land may complicate matters. They used a property likeness without permission for commercial gain, which is generally a no-no.

Since you do not say what state the cabin is in, I can't really venture any further than that.

Get yourself a lawyer, seriously.

Since any potential defendant would be a "deep pocket" defendant, you shouldn't have any trouble finding one who would not demand any money up front but would work for a percentage of the settlement.
posted by falconred at 7:03 PM on October 25, 2004

Any documentation of the exchange between Beer Co. and grandparents? If not, I doubt if there is any recourse at all. Unless the property was being used as a source identifier they can most likely use the image. Highly unlikely. There's also a copyright exception in building designs for photos taken in public places. Hurt feelings do not equal successful civil actions. That said, I'm not a lawyer or doctor or pyschiatrist, etc.
posted by anathema at 7:32 PM on October 25, 2004

What exactly do you mean by "property likeness," falconred? Buildings can be protected by trademark law but they have to be used as marks to gain those rights. My bet is that this cabin has zero trademark status. Buildings and building designs may also be copyrightable subject matter depending upon originality. But see the exception mentioned above. This is obviously over simplified, but you get the idea.
I'm still not a lawyer, house painter, or telemarketer.
posted by anathema at 7:40 PM on October 25, 2004

IANAL - but when I was doing research into possibly becoming a professional photographer for a living one of the lessons I learned was to ALWAYS get a property release. Your cabin is essentially a model in their advertisment and deserves to be compensated as such. A good lawyer should get you some money and a cease and desist. For reference - our friends have a nice house often used for catalog shoots - their house makes about $1500 a shoot. Your negotiating should be based on how many times the ad was broadcast and how big the market (nationwide will get you more cash than a local commercial). The company will have metrics on how often the ad ran (they had to pay based on that) and I'm sure a good lawyer would make it so they had to give you those figures. Good luck.
posted by Wolfie at 7:46 PM on October 25, 2004

Wolfie, are those interior shots?
posted by anathema at 7:48 PM on October 25, 2004

anathema - sorry, I was not using "property likeness" as a legal term of art there but as plain english, so I didn't mean anything particular by it.
posted by falconred at 8:45 PM on October 25, 2004

anathema, what if they slapped a big (c) 2004 sign on the roof, indicating they reserved copyright on the visual design of the house?

Just wondering, because copyright is being used to secure rights on more and more inane things.
posted by shepd at 8:48 PM on October 25, 2004

I'd be very, very surprised if there was anything that you were legally owed. Still, a nastygram might yield you a settlement of a few grand, just to save Beer Co. the trouble of having their attorney deal with it.
posted by waldo at 9:23 PM on October 25, 2004

shepd: It wouldn't matter. Can't remember if the exception is statutory or common law. I'll check.

I can go into Manhattan, take a picture of the Flat Iron building, or any building for that matter, print posters and sell them to my hearts content. Unless the building is being used as a trademark, I'm all set. See the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame case.
posted by anathema at 3:22 AM on October 26, 2004

My wife is a magazine editor. I know that they're allowed to take pictures of any house they care to, as long as they do it from a public sidewalk. I'm sure similar rights exist in a rural setting.
posted by jpburns at 4:52 AM on October 26, 2004

I suspect the releases Wolfie refers to are for interiors, which are far more likely to implicate privacy rights. CYA.
posted by anathema at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2004

For future protection, simply erect a giant statue of a penis in front of the cabin.
posted by kindall at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2004

Volcanic penis.
posted by anathema at 9:04 AM on October 26, 2004

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