Secret Marketer: The law is an ass. Why do I need permission to use a brand’s logo?

Every marketing director knows not to upset their boss. Second in line on that list should be anyone on the finance team, followed closely by human resources, especially near the time of salary reviews.

This week, I would like to add the legal team to that list.

As I have mentioned before, I’m fortunate enough to have acquired internal communications into my previously external comms-focussed marketing department. As a result, I have been busy this week finalising the annual sales conference content for the business – the theme, speakers, speeches and slides.

One of the sessions talks about the need for us to invest in the brand. I had a slide featuring strong brands such as Apple and John Lewis, which I happened to share with some of those in the leadership team, including the legal director.

“You cannot do that, you do not have their consent,” he said gruffly. I looked at him puzzled as to what he meant.

He went on to explain that under copyright law, to reproduce another brand’s logo requires their permission, even if it is used only for an internal audience and merely as a reference to their standing in society.

I was aghast. In all the conferences that I have attended and spoken at, various commentators have used case studies of other brands.

I asked the legal director whether we were also in breach of the law by using competitor logos in an internal sales pack or a target customer’s brand identity in our business plan for the CEO, to which he answered ‘yes’ for both.

But how on earth could I get permission from a company that didn’t even know that it was in my pipeline as a prospective customer next year?

The law is an ass. While I fully appreciate that a company’s brand contains multiple generations of heritage and investment, to prevent other people referring to them – in the classroom, in newspapers, or in this case, amongst jealous competitors in the company boardroom – is nonsensical.

Surely the whole reason that brands exist is for people to know and refer to them?

Hide Comments1 Show Comment
  • Samantha Tonge 3 Mar 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Firstly brand’s logos would be covered by trademark lay not copyright law, secondly what you describe would come under fair use. So the law is not an ass, your legal director on the other hand…

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