Do you need to get licensing agreements for these things?
May 14, 2009 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Image licensing and advertising on the Colbert Report

Does Comedy Central or the Stephen Colbert show have to get licenses of every image he uses on the show? For instance in one segment, he says "back then, most people just prayed for more flavourful tar in their Chesterfields" accompanied with the relevant picture of a (presumably) copyrighted Chesterfields pack.

Also there's many prop food products he shows off which seems very clearly to be advertising, but due to the nature of his show, he may only react positively to the product and jokingly denounce it. I had the impression advertising companies were too uptight about negative comments to be into this kind of advertising?

Though he does a lot more obvious advertising with Doritos and the like, it's the small stuff that makes me wonder how they manage it.
posted by Submiqent to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Parody is a valid defense against claims of trademark infringement.

I found some interesting stuff with this Google search.
posted by ODiV at 10:58 PM on May 14, 2009

Yes; it is completely legal to use copyrighted images, video and other works as a parody.
posted by koeselitz at 11:51 PM on May 14, 2009

If it were illegal to talk about copyrighted catchphrases and show copyrighted images entirely, it'd be almost impossible to talk about anything commercial whatsoever in public without getting sued. Thankfully, that's not the case.
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 PM on May 14, 2009

It is also fair-use to use trademarked and/or copyrighted media for the purposes of commentary and criticism.
posted by rhizome at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2009

Best answer: All the above are partially wrong.

Although IANAL, they definitely need rights from the photographer/owner of the pictures to use them on the show.

If you took a photograph of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, they would need your consent to use your photo, parody or not. They might not need Marlboro's consent to use the photo, as this could constitute fair use as a parody of their brand. But they can't just say "we're a parody show!" and use everyone's content at will. Even if they could, the cost of obtaining rights to the photos is so low compared to the costs of a lawsuit, they would probably acquire rights anyway just to be safe.

My guess is that they license photos from major image libraries like Getty Images, which could be confirmed by attempting to freeze the hyperspeed credits at the end of the show.

Interesting reading here: "The Court explained further that while a parody targets and mimics the original work to make its point, a satire uses the work to criticize something else, and therefore requires justification for the very act of borrowing."
posted by hamsterdam at 10:20 AM on May 15, 2009

hamsterdam: My guess is that they license photos from major image libraries like Getty Images, which could be confirmed by attempting to freeze the hyperspeed credits at the end of the show.


Well... my guess is that they take the pictures themselves. Wouldn't that simplify the process of getting licensing a bit?

What's more, exact reproductions (or works attempting to be exact reproductions) of other words have generally fallen under the license of those other works and, therefore, the consent even of the person who took a photo of a particular piece of advertising or a logo or something wouldn't be needed.

It would not be necessary for them to license from Getty images; and a show that savvy, I would think, wouldn't bother. Creative Commons licensing is ubiquitous enough; why not just look on google images?
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 PM on May 15, 2009

I can offer this data point: on pro photographer James Duncan Davidson's (awful) podcast, he mentioned that he was excited about Colbert using this image, but was a bit miffed that they used it without permission. I don't think it falls under whatever "parody" exception there might be, either--they weren't parodying the photo. They were using it in the exact same way that a real, paying, news agency would.

I have a feeling that Colbert does this kind of thing pretty often. I've heard him say in interviews that writing the show is pretty hectic, so I doubt they have time to get permission for every single image they use. They're probably just banking on the fact that no one's going to get riled up over a second-long clip of a comedy show.
posted by Garak at 6:39 AM on May 16, 2009

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