Blurring out Clothing on TV
I was recently listening to an interview of Morgan Spurlock, who is coming out with a new film called The Greatest Film Movie Ever Sold or, really, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which explores the world of product placement and the new media of advertising. The film is completely funded by the advertisers in the film.
The interviewer said that when you make a show, you’re either getting sued for using the product without permission or getting paid to use it with permission. And so, the discussion moved into talking about all the gaffer’s tape that gets used in television today because the person on camera is wearing a hat whose manufacturer hasn’t cleared its use with the studio, or the maker of the drink that the reality star is chugging doesn’t have a rights agreement with the broadcaster. With its abundance of reality shows, MTV has become a master at the art of wrapping a soda can in paper, blurring out a t-shirt, and taping over shoe logos. They do this for a variety of reasons, but most frequently because they haven’t cleared the ability to display trademarks and copyrights recorded on film. With the huge number of logos and copyright-protected works that are displayed in a reality show, an effort to obtain licenses for each rights owner would be monumental.
As I’ve discussed before, copyright protection doesn’t currently extend to clothing itself. Because clothing helps satisfy the basic need of shelter, Congress says that it is important we don’t limit the ability to create a basic-need solution or give control of that solution to just one or two companies. By preventing clothing from being protected under copyright, we hopefully allow companies to produce both high-end and low-end clothing so that everyone can have access to it.
Various attempts to protect clothing with copyright have nevertheless been pursued in Congress. As I was listening to the interview, I started imagining what would happen to reality shows if such fashion-protective copyright legislation passed. Jersey Shore would turn simply into one giant blur-effect. We’d see the faces of the cast, hear the conversations, but everything else would pretty much be blurred or blacked out. An interesting consequence, and a helpful reminder to think about all the possible unintended side effects from a decision – legal or otherwise.