Can copyrighted images be used on grave markers?
March 11, 2009 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Can copyrighted images be used on grave markers?

My father died last month, and we need to pick out a marker for his grave. He was a hot-rodder, and the love of his life was his '73 Mach I Mustang.

We'd be thrilled if we could have the classic Mustang emblem engraved on his marker, which is likely to be a flat, gray granite gravestone.

The funeral director with whom we were working let us know that copyrighted images weren't available for such use. Instead, he showed us some clip art. However, a family member talked to a coworker who used to work for a monument company, and she said that the Mustang emblem might be available. . . .

So, hivemind, is this something that we should pursue? I'd rather not rely fully on family hearsay or sources, and I'd prefer not to invite a legal imbroglio. If anyone (paging ColdChef) could give me a definitive answer and maybe some leads, I'd appreciate it.

Grave is in OK; we don't have too much to spend.
posted by kwaller to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Without knowing exactly how far abreast Ford has gone in licensing the Mustang emblem, my initial response is "No", a copyrighted image cannot be used without permission.

The person who worked for the monument company may be correct in that the emblem MIGHT be available. I'm sure there are catalogs of copyrighted art available to monument makers. It may very well be that the Mustang emblem has been approved for such use. Your best bet is to contact the memorial company directly and inquire about such special art.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2009

Here's a related story from my neck of the woods about the hoops a mom had to jump through in order to get a picture of Spongebob Squarepants on her son's gravestone.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2009

Best answer: It appears that Ford has put out some images under a creative commons license as part of their "digital snippets" program, mainly for social networking users.

You might want to try this guy:

Alan Hall
Public Affairs Manager
Ford Motor Company
work Office: (313) 594-3744
Cell: (313) 575-1488

or this guy, in charge of Car Communications: Dan Jarvis Car Communications

Their entire communications shop has contact info here.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 AM on March 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Can copyrighted images be used on grave markers?

Sure, if you have permission. There's no law that gives you special license to infringe copyright on grave markers where you could not otherwise.

Furthermore, the logo is probably a trademark as well, further restricting your ability to use it.
posted by grouse at 10:36 AM on March 11, 2009

The gravestone company can't engrave it because of copyright. You, however, could take possession of the stone and do it yourself or have someone that is willing do it for you. The cemetery won't care, and Ford isn't going to sue you for having it, especially if they can't prove that anyone made any money using it.
posted by _Skull_ at 10:52 AM on March 11, 2009

Anything stop you from getting your hands on a Mustang grille logo from an actual vehicle, and having someone epoxy it onto the face of the stone? If you want to go that route, I'd have the monument engraver cut an oval or lozenge large enough to accommodate the logo and then use an epoxy to secure the logo in place. Insetting it like that will help protect it. The monument maker might even do it for you if you ask and supply the logo. They wouldn't be reproducing it, they'd be using it as supplied by Ford. Ford can copyright the logo, they can restrict reproduction, but they can't stop you from using it as an art piece or as part of a memorial once you've paid for it. Copyright protects copying, which you would not be doing. I'd see it as no different than found-object art, really, like the old seatbelts turned into belts for pants. Re-use of an object is not re-creation, and as such should not be a problem.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:52 AM on March 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you could just get the engraver to do it, no company would ask you to remove or replace it. Well, they might, but the backlash would cause them to reconsider very quickly.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2009

grouse is on the right track in suggesting that trademark is implicated here, but he--and everyone else so far--is wrong in that this isn't a question of copyright, it's a pure question of trademark. You don't get to both copyright and trademark something; you have to pick one. This being a logo used to promote the sale of a product of service, it is subject to trademark only.

There are two reasons why logos are trademarked, not copyrighted. First, trademark is perpetual, so as long as one uses a trademark to identify one's products, the mark stays protected. Second, unlike with copyrighted works, companies want other people to be able to reproduce their logo without permission, particularly for retail advertising. As long as the logo is being used to advertise the manufacturer's products, trademarks may be reproduced freely and without permission, and this is good for everyone. If manufacturers had to give explicit permission every time your local Best Buy/Target/Wal-Mart/mom-'n-pop store ran their weekly newspaper promotional, they'd need an entirely new department just to handle the paperwork to enable their retailers to do things that the manufacturer really wants them to do and won't charge them a dime for. This would be stupid.

The major restriction of trademark is that the trademark owner has the right to prevent/stop the use of their trademarks in ways that are reasonably likely to cause confusion in the consumer or are reasonably likely to "dilute" the trademark, particularly by associating it with things the manufacturer would not normally want to associate.

Because you aren't using the logo in connection with offering a product or service for sale, the main reason for trademark is largely avoided. And though Ford probably doesn't want their logos appearing on too many grave stones, Optimus Chyme is probably right that they won't make a big deal about it. PR nightmare.

What you need to tell your engraver is that the logo isn't copyrighted at all, so they don't have to worry about that. If you're really concerned though, contact the Ford rep mentioned above and get a letter from him.
posted by valkyryn at 12:07 PM on March 11, 2009

"As long as the logo is being used to advertise the manufacturer's products, trademarks may be reproduced freely and without permission"

This isn't true. Some companies give blanket license to use specific logos in specific contexes but that is a far reach from being able to use any logo I want for any advertising purpose involving that product.

For example here are Adobe's terms and conditions and Microsoft's (journalist/other).
posted by Mitheral at 12:42 PM on March 11, 2009

You don't get to both copyright and trademark something; you have to pick one.

This is wrong.
It's not uncommon for an item to be protected under both trademark and copyright law... The difference here is that copyright protects the literal expression, while trademark protects whatever is used to designate the source of a procut or service being offered in the marketplace.
Richard Stim, Patent, Copyright and Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference
posted by grouse at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2009

I love cautionlivefrogs's idea. Totally avoids all copyright/trademark issues and would look totally badass, too.
posted by Aquaman at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2009

I like Caution Live Frog's approach as well.

IANYL: Perhaps the monument company will agree to put it on the grave stone if you agree, in writing, to cover all their costs and any damage claim made against them by Ford. And agree to take it down right away if Ford complains. Assuming you're good for the promise, you are taking on their risk. It is, of course, inviting all of the legal imborglio but the risk of Ford suing you or his estate is likely low. And if they don't like it, they will likely ask to have it taken down first before going for any damages.
posted by Hali at 4:10 PM on March 11, 2009

I think I read something a while back (maybe even a year ago?) about a Mustang enthusiast group putting together and publishing their own calendar of them and their Mustangs, and Ford suing to not only shut the calendar down, but for damages as well.

Personally, I think I would proceed carefully, and not do something like what Hali says, but that is just me. If I can find the calendar link, Ill post it.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:48 AM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: Per Ironmouth's suggestion, I contacted Alan Hall at Ford's Public Affairs office. I received an incredibly quick response, providing a one-time release of the Mustang bar and pony emblem for use on my dad's grave marker. They even sent a high-resolution version of the image to pass along to the engraver.

Thanks for your help, Mefites, and thanks to Ford for their kindness. I'm so amazed and grateful—it's the perfect tribute to a lifelong Mustang fanatic.
posted by kwaller at 12:24 PM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

That's great news, kwaller.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:43 PM on March 24, 2009

Glad to hear it, Ford did the right thing.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:10 PM on March 24, 2009

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