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Q: copyright issues when including manufacturer logos on a commerce site ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: copyright issues when including manufacturer logos on a commerce site
Category: Business and Money > Advertising and Marketing
Asked by: coryon-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 16 Mar 2006 16:18 PST
Expires: 15 Apr 2006 17:18 PDT
Question ID: 708159
we sell oem and aftermarket replacement parts (for cellphones). we
have noticed that some of our competitors display the graphic logos
for various manufacturers on their sites, as grapic links for site
navigation. we doubt that they have gone to the expense to license the
use of these presumeably copyrighted logos from a number of
manufacturers, and in at least one case we know (kyocera) they have
threatened aggressive legal reprisals for unauthorized use.

but it looks like people are either getting away with it, or perhaps
there is a fair-use principle that would allow us to do the same.

is this usage simply risky and illegal but normally unenforced?
unrestricted in a fair use context?
Subject: Re: copyright issues when including manufacturer logos on a commerce site
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 16 Mar 2006 18:01 PST

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and answer your g**d**m unanswerable question.

It's unanswerable because this is one of the most convoluted and
fast-changing areas of law in all of legaldom, and because -- as the
law is currently structured -- there are no efinitive answers for any
given situation, until a court says there are.

More about that in a bit.  But first, the necessary disclaimer. 
Google Answers is not a substitute for professional legal advice, as
stated plainly on the bottom of the page.  So take all this with the
appropriate grains of salt.

Now, to the matter at hand.  

Bottom line:  You're probably OK making very modest use of logos as
links. Don't use them in any way that could cause confusion, or
falsely imply that the companies somehow endorse your business. If the
logo-owner complains, then take them down, pronto, and learn to live
without them, at least for the complaining company.

Now, for some background, based on common sense, current practice, and
some matters of law.

You don't own the rights to the logo images..someone else does.  But
by the same token, neither you nor I own the rights to any trademarked
or copyrighted or otherwise protected piece of intellectual property.

Everytime you or I write the words Coca-Cola, Kodak, CNN, M&Ms, Life
Magazine, Nike, Toyota Corolla, Starbucks, Google, etc etc, we are
making use of intellectual property that is owned by someone else.

Now, obviously, the world wouldn't work very well if one could never
write the words Coca-Cola, without seeking formal legal permission. 
Some small amount of usage is acceptable.  Images are not inherently
different than words in this order for the world to work
in a reasonable manner, some amount of usage is OK.

How much, you ask?  No one knows. 

Let me repeat that...NO ONE KNOWS.  

The laws of the land simply have not defined any bright lines to
define acceptable use.

The reason so many intellectual property disputes wind up in court is
that both sides think they are right, and the law is on their side --
'I was making fair use of your logo' vs 'No you weren't, you were

Ultimately, the courts are the only ones who can really decide these
things...there simply aren't any formal guidelines to fall back on. 
So, your only choice is to either get permission in advance, or take a

You can minimize the odds of running into trouble, though.  I took a
chance listing all those trademarked names, a few sentences ago. 
However, I seriously doubt anyone would argue that I've somehow hurt
their commercial interests by doing so, or that I exceeded the bounds
of reasonableness in making use of these terms.

Similarly, keep your use of logos at an obviously reasonable level --
not too big, not repeated too many times on a single page, not
superimposed with other images or text in any way that (a) disparages
the company, (b) causes confusion, such as a picture of a generic
product next to a Motorola logo, or (c) implies their endorsement of
your company.

Keep to those guidelines and -- while no one can guarantee that you
won't get a nastygram from some hack corporate lawyer -- you should
nonetheless be on pretty firm ground.

I've written this based on my own knowledge and experience with these
matters, and I hope this information suits your needs.  If you want to
explore the topic in a bit more detail, here are some links that you
may find useful:
[This is probably your best single read.  Wikipedia is an open-license
(anyone can use it) encyclopedia that, itself, makes pretty free --
but limited -- use of corporate logos, according to careful
guidelines.  As far as I know, they've never been sued for it].
Trademark Law for ... Dunderheads
Website Permissions
Use of other company's logo when referencing a news story that mentions your co 

I trust this information fully answers your question.  

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.

All the best,


search strategy -- Used bookmarked sites along with my own knowledge on this topic.
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