Oscar Winning Short Animation Film: Logorama

My wife and I did a good thing on the day of the recent Oscar telecast: we attended a 1 pm showing at our local theater of the Oscar-nominated short films and short animation films.

Although I thought the Oscar presentation was too long and not funny enough, having seen the 1 pm showing made the presentations later that night for those two categories much more interesting.

If you get the chance to see the winning short animation film it is simply brilliant. It was Logorama, a 16-minute animated film set in what is presumably Los Angeles that uses to great satirical effect (apparently) over 2,500 logos or trademarks (the Wikipedia entry here provides a nice overview) (A recent Retweet by Simon Fodden makes a brief mention of the film).

The image here gives some flavour of the stunning visuals:

Imagine from Logorama, the Oscar winning animated short film

Produced and written by a team of French film-makers, it tells the story of two foul-mouthed police officers (in the forms of Bibendum, the Michelin man) who get a call to chase a criminal who turns out to be in the character of gun-toting and equally foul-mouthed Ronald McDonald driving a stolen courier truck and eventually taking Bob’s Big Boy as a hostage. Cleary a touch of Quentin Tarantino going on here, to good effect.

This short summary does not do justice to the movie and the wonderful satirical message on the impact of corporations and advertising.

I will be adding it to my list of law-related movies that I will shortly be re-publishing on a new website (the launch of which I will announce on SLAW).

Although I tried a few Internet searches now to get more information about the making of the animated film, my main reaction – aside from one of awe – was “How did they get away with not being sued by the various owners of the trade-marks?” I assume they did not have the consent of the trademark owners (given the way most of the logos were portrayed). I therefore assume (and hope, in a way) that they are relying on the “satire” defence.

For a good overview of this defence, I recommend the following recent article:

Aaron Jaroff, “Big Boi, Dr. Seuss, and the King: Expanding the Constitutional Protections for the Satirical Use of Famous Trademarks” (2008) 57 American University Law Review 641, available online here (40 pages, PDF).

The following online bulletin by two Latham & Watkins lawyers for the ABA IP Litigation Committee also provides a good listing of some recent trademark parody cases:

The Satire/Parody Distinction in Copyright and Trademark Law (here in PDF, 17 pages).

For those not shy of material that is not necessarily family friendly, a Google images search here on << dr seuss parody >> has some fairly funny (and tasteless) takes on the Cat and the Hat and the like.

And speaking of Bibendum (the Michelin man): This all brings back good memories of Professor Drassinower’s IP course (taken while I was doing an LL.M. a few years back at U of Toronto). One of the cases we discussed was a Canadian case involving posters and placards containing use of a caricature of Bibendum by disgruntled union members of Michelin – see: Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin-Michelin & Cie v. National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada (CAW-Canada), [1997] 2 F.C. 306. The Court described the union’s caricature of Bibendum in these terms:

The contentious portion of the leaflet depicts a broadly smiling “Bibendum”, arms crossed, with his foot raised, seemingly ready to crush underfoot an unsuspecting Michelin worker. In the same leaflet, another worker safely out of the reach of “Bibendum’s” looming foot has raised a finger of warning and informs his blithe colleague, “Bob, you better move before he squashes you!” Bob, the worker in imminent danger of “Bibendum’s” boot has apparently resisted the blandishments of the union since a caption coming from his mouth reads, “Naw, I’m going to wait and see what happens”. Below the roughly drawn figures of the workers is the following plea in bold letters, “Don’t wait until it’s too late! Because the job you save may be your own. Sign today for a better tomorrow.”

If I recall correctly (and this shows you I am too lazy to actually re-read the case I just cited to), the union was not necessarily offside on trade-mark infringement but were offside on copyright infringement (and their freedom of expression rights were held to not have justified such infringement since they could have expressed their frustration with Michelin in ways that did not infringe Michelin’s intellectual property rights).

See Logorama at your first opportunity.

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