Common Sense Should Prevail in
Use of Logos on Campaign Signs
I'm running for student senate. One of the issues of my campaign
is on-campus dining. I think our school should offer more alternatives,
should bring national franchises into the union and elsewherelike
Subway or Pizza Hut. To make my point, I've used some company logos
(again things like Pizza Hut, Subway and a few others) on my campaign
signs. The guy at Kinko's said I could get in trouble for using
the logos without permission. Will I?
Adam, Sophomore, Private College or University, Georgia
Is your use of those logos illegal? Technically, probably yes.
Are they going to come after you for it? I highly doubt it.
Here's the deal:
Those logos are the companies' trademarks. A trademark is a word,
symbol or other device that distinguishes one company's goods from
another's. Trademarks can be almost anything, from a logo to a distinctive
combination of colors or packaging to an architectural design. The
Playboy Bunny, the Nike swoosh, Tony the Tiger, the distinctive
look of a McDonalds restaurant, even the three notes in the NBC
jingle are trademarks.
Trademarks are, technically, property. So just like the owner of
a house can keep everyone else out, owners of trademarks are entitled
to exclusive use of the mark and can prohibit others from using
itespecially if there is a likelihood of confusion, mistake,
or deception on the part of the public. In other words, if a consumer
could be tricked into thinking that they're dealing with the owner's
company based on the mark, then it is infringement.
In your case, I doubt that anyone would think that you're planning
on selling sandwiches or pizzas. So there's no chance of direct
confusion. But, if the fine people at the corporate headquarters
of one of these places really wanted to push the issue, they could
make a pretty solid argument that the posters imply that Pizza Hut
or Taco Bell or whoever else is on your flyers has endorsed you
as a candidate. Based on that, they may be able to stop you.
But I think this is one of the rare instances where common sense
prevails over the black letter of the law. First, is anyone from
the legal department at one of these going to happen across one
of these signs? I'm betting no. And then, even if they do, do you
think they're going to object to your fight to bring them to your
campus? Definitely not.
So, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with the Kinko's
guy. I think you're in the clear.
The material in this column addresses general
legal issues only; is not legal advice and should not be relied
on as such; and may or may not be appropriate to a specific situation.
Laws and procedures change frequently and are subject to differing
interpretations. This column is not intended to create, and does
not create, a lawyer-client relationship and is not intended to
substitute for legal counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.