April 12, 2002
11:11 AM   Subscribe

Does whatever a spider can... Producers of the Spider-Man movie are being sued because billboards were digitally altered to promote different products. Since the whole movie is digitally altered in a sense, should we care where reality ends these days? Is this the next level of product placement?
posted by FreezBoy (25 comments total)
"Advertisers depend... also on the residual impact of their signs appearing in photographs, newspapers, magazines, TV shows, movies and elsewhere,"

That's moronic, Columbia is under no obligation to increase another company's ad revenues.
posted by signal at 11:19 AM on April 12, 2002

Unless someone has seen Spider-Man swinging his way down 5th Avenue lately, and bought a copy of 'The Daily Bugle' from a street vendor, the film is a fantasy.

In that reality, Samsung was to cheap to buy the billboard space, and other companies filled the gap. In that reality, The Lizard, The Blob and Doc Octopus may be members of the Samsung Board of Directors.
posted by Perigee at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2002

I don't particularly like product placement and the now commonplace use of movies as 2 h commercials but

On the other hand...

If this is a recognizable building, in a recognizable location, then anything digitally "placed" on the building will be associated with the real owners of the building against their will. If a picture of your house appeared in the newspaper with a swastika added to it would you not object? Even if it was an old file photo that was not meant to depict any person's house in particular?
posted by plaino at 11:40 AM on April 12, 2002

Newspapers are meant to accurately report real-world events. Fantasy movies about superheroes are not. Apples vs. oranges.
posted by Danelope at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2002

When a frivolous lawsuit brings media attention everyone wins!
posted by euphorb at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2002

i agree with plaino. Times Square is a hugely recognizable location, and advertisers pay money out the wazoo to be associated with it. it's not like a billboard on the side of the highway.
posted by o2b at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2002

So what about digitaly replacing old ads in old games shown on Sports Classic network? Isn't it the same basic problem as specified by plaino?
posted by dig_duggler at 11:47 AM on April 12, 2002

When a frivolous lawsuit brings media attention everyone wins!


From the article: "We think it's inappropriate to substitute your own image for the one that exists,"

Nice to see someone speaking out against the scourge of billboards and other advertising obscuring everything from landscape scenery to the architecture of building.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:51 AM on April 12, 2002

So what about digitaly replacing old ads in old games shown on Sports Classic network? Isn't it the same basic problem as specified by plaino?

I don't think this is exactly the same. However, I have to wonder if the original advertisers expected/paid for exposure from re-airings of these games. If not, I bet sports ad contracts specify something about this now.
posted by plaino at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2002

CBS got in trouble a couple of years ago for dig-modding Times Square in a similar fashion. In this case, it was a Dan Rather-hosted New Years Eve broadcast, produced by CBS's news division. The criticism was more pointed then, and probably more justified.

But this is a movie, people.. did the Secret Service get involved when space aliens blew up the White House in Independence Day?
posted by PrinceValium at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2002

anything digitally "placed" on the building will be associated with the real owners of the building - Plaino

Unless that building happens to have a huge billboard on it, which could have any advertisement on it at any given time. If the billboard and therefore the building doesn't remain static, then the owners (IMO) don't have a legal leg to stand on. Maybe there once was, or will be, an ad for USA Today.
posted by ashbury at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2002

It would be interesting to pursue the line of reasoning in this case. For example, it would be hard to argue that merely the fact they were filming in Times Square requires they include billboards. But how about digital blurring?
Would one be "allowed" to blur the signage on a building? What about traditional blurring through depth-of-field? Aren't all these merely creative choices?

And what frickin precedent is there for anyone to dictate the content of another company's film after all?
posted by jeremias at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2002

This is one of the more absurd things I've heard in a while.

First, the movie is about teenager who can walk on the ceiling and sew an incredibly elaborate costume.

Second, EVERYTHING in advertising is digitally altered. Most things on TV are digitally altered as well. Why should it be any worse to replace an ad for your competitor then it is for MTV to fuzz out products on all of their shows? Zits on models don't help sell products, neither does an ad for rival products over their shoulder. Next time you're looking at a movie poster, notice the pores on the star's nose -- oh wait, those have been digitally altered along with everything else.

There is something of a backstory here although I can't remember the details or find a link (maybe someone can confirm or deny this). I heard a story a few years back about Samsung paying a fortune to have their ad above a Japanese rival. The sticking point was an old ethnic conflict and the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula. Interesting that it was the removal of Samsung's ad which ended up triggering the lawsuit.

(Yes I read the article and I know that it wasn't Samsung suing, but that ad brings in a significant amount of revenue for the building it's on. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a mildly nasty phone call from Seoul that got this whole ball rolling.)

One more thing, am I the only person who thinks the CGI on this movie looks like crap? They appear to be using extremely fast motion to cover up a shoddy lighting job. That's to say nothing about how stiff Spiderman looks in every digital shot. Maybe if they'd spent less time worrying about billboards...
posted by joemaller at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2002

What a bunch of crap. Advertising is paid for its placement in a certain place and time. Fictional movie makers have no obligation to represent either accurately, regardless of the place and/or time being portrayed. I can't imagine the slipperly slope of obligation that a win in this suit would lead to.
posted by holycola at 2:40 PM on April 12, 2002

I'm baffled as to what exactly they think the legal precedent is for this lawsuit. Frankly, I think the law is far stronger the other way - that the filmmakers don't have the right to incorporate someone else's copyrighted/trademarked advertising into their film at all!

Lawrence Lessig tells the story about a filmmaker who, during the shooting of a documentary, accidentally caught a few seconds of a Simpsons episode in the background. Even though Matt Groening said it was fine, the studio demanded $25,000 for the right to keep that few seconds of Simpsons int he bakground. The filmmaker edited it out.
posted by mikewas at 2:49 PM on April 12, 2002

Tangentially related, this is quite old but also quite cool.

This post brought to you by Samsung Electronics
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:27 PM on April 12, 2002

What if it was a painting of Times Square? Is the painter legally obligated to faithfully reproduce the ads? What about a description of it in a novel?
posted by electro at 5:48 PM on April 12, 2002

If a picture of your house appeared in the newspaper with a swastika added to it would you not object?

This is just a bad analogy. We're talking about billboards, not homes. One of my relatives had an apartment building with a billboard attached but was recently taken down because of local regulations. If someone shot a movie or did a remote piece there and blurred or replaced the ad (back when it was still up) then nothing has really happened. There's no legal agreement by any of these parties to provide free ad space especially when they're in the business of selling ads, among other things. Not to mention a swastika isn't really an ad.

A better analogy would be some fashion designer or sponsor suing MTV or ESPN because they blurred out their logo on a celebrity's t-shirt.
posted by skallas at 8:53 PM on April 12, 2002

So Samsung means "to come" eh? That's good to know.

I still believe that had the M&Ms people not said no to Stephen Spielberg, they could have killed Recees Pieces. E.T. single-handedly put Recees Pieces on the map.

When Cameron Diaz had Spider-Man on her ass in Charlie's Angels, did anyone complain? I certainly didn't complain. In fact, as I recall, Harry Knowles creamed his pants! What a frightening thought that was!

This is actually a potentially serious issue, but I fail to see the seriousness of it. Remember back in the days when Looney Tunes cartoons were actually funny? Wile E Coyote never mailed off to Samsung or Sony. He could only get dangerous traps and rockets and stuff from companies that didn't exist like "Ajax" or "Acme." And when he blew up in the night's sky did it say "Eat At McDonalds"? No. It only said "Eat At Joe's." And did Joe ever sue anybody? No, cuz he was too busy being hypnotized by Cameron Diaz's ass along with Harry Knowles!

I wish the opposite would happen. I wish this frivolous lawsuit would find it's way up to the supreme court of this fine country, who would insist that no film could ever have any stupid company logos in it from actual companies anymore. The director would have to make all of the companies up. I see enough of those stupid billboards every day on the highway. Why would I wanna see them in my movies? You know which of the three Back To The Future movies are the best? The third one where they went back in time to the Old West. Why? There was NO MENTION of Pepsi anywhere in that movie. That's why. They squeezed Frisbee in there but I doubt the Frisbee company paid for that product placement.

The Supreme Court should also insist that from now on, all movies must have Cameron Diaz spinning her Spider-Man clad ass.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:14 PM on April 12, 2002

I really hope you never saw Josie and the Pusscats, Zachsmind. See, the product placement in that movie is a gag, but they used real products and got real money for their fictional movie criticizing mindless consumerism. Cute girls though, I think one is an orphan owned by Philip Morris.

Call me crazy, but if you want to mock product placement and consumerist culture then don't do the exact thing you're criticizing. I especially love the non-existant yet ubiquitous AT&T phone that has a huge logo on the bottom part of the handset so you can see the logo while watching the actor's lips move. I've never seen that phone in any store or in anyone's house.
posted by skallas at 10:40 PM on April 12, 2002

I do visual effects at Columbia. We did all the effects for Spiderman. This lawsuit is a joke. The real scoop is....we contacted the advertisers and asked if they wanted to participate...the ones that REFUSED, got replaced by those that participated. We also couldn't have advertisers that showed something that would "date" the movie....like an ad for a tv series...there was a "Weakest Link" billboard that was replaced by a PopTart ad instead. All this was done after contacting the owners of the billboards and signs....
posted by Sonserae at 2:01 AM on April 13, 2002

So, Sonserae, lemme get this straight. The people who are suing had their chance to get their names in the movie, declined, and now are suing because their names aren't in the movie? Classic. What a country we live in.

I'd already decided the suit was a joke, but thanks for the explanation. Now it's a funny joke.
posted by diddlegnome at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2002

Actually I have seen Josie & the Pussycats and I understand that the whole premise to the plot of that film (and I use the word 'plot' very loosely in this context) involved the use of product placement and subliminal advertising to hypnotize the teeming masses. A friend suggested I'd get a kick out of the movie because of the message it was trying to get across. I'd still like those two hours of my life back.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:14 AM on April 14, 2002

how stiff Spiderman looks in every digital shot

Yeah, especially in this "trailer."
posted by piskycritters at 4:37 PM on April 15, 2002

For the record, according to the IMDb, no money was received for the product placement in Josie and The Pussycats.
posted by Danelope at 3:28 PM on April 19, 2002

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