Denzel Washington's character in "Flight" drinks a lot throughout the film, but his portrayal of a highly functioning alcoholic pilot isn't going down well with brewing company Anheuser-Busch or the distributor of Stolichnaya vodka.
Anheuser-Busch said Monday that it has asked Paramount Pictures Corp. to obscure or remove the Budweiser logo from the film, which at one point shows Washington's character drinking the beer while behind the wheel.
Budweiser is hardly the only alcoholic beverage shown in "Flight," which earned $25 million in its debut weekend and is likely to remain popular with audiences. Washington's character frequently drinks vodka throughout the film, with several different brands represented. William Grant & Sons, which distributes Stolichnaya in the United States, also said it didn't license its brand for inclusion in the film and wouldn't have given permission if asked.
Although product placement, where companies pay producers to have their brands seen on-camera, have become ubiquitous in movies and television, experts say studios are not obligated to get permission before featuring a product in their work.
Rob McCarthy, vice-president of Budweiser, wrote in a statement to The Associated Press that the company wasn't contacted by Paramount or the production company of director Robert Zemeckis for permission to use the beer in "Flight."
"We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving," McCarthy wrote. "We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theatres."
A spokesman for Zemeckis referred questions to Paramount, which did not return an email message seeking comment.
Despite the companies' dissatisfaction with their inclusion in the film, experts say there is little they can do about it legally.
Trademark laws "don't exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items," said Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project. "It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that's sort of led to a culture where they expect they'll have control. That's not a right the trademark law gives them."