Flight Fight: Budweiser Wants Its Logo Taken Out of Denzel Washington Film

Most brands would probably be thrilled by appearing in a movie alongside a Hollywood icon, but being enjoyed by an alcoholic airline pilot is probably not what Budweiser had in mind.

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Robyn Beck / AFP Photo / Getty Images

Denzel Washington arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of "Flight" at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, California, October 23, 2012.

Most brands would probably be thrilled by any kind of connection with Hollywood icon Denzel Washington, but the brewing company behind Budweiser is asking Paramount Pictures to remove its product from Washington’s new movie, Flight, the Associated Press reports.

According to the AP, Anheuser-Busch said Monday that it asked Paramount to “obscure or remove the Budweiser logo” from the film, in which the former Sexiest Man Alive plays a high-functioning alcoholic pilot. In one scene, Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker, drinks a Budweiser while driving a car, CBS News notes.

According to experts who spoke to the AP, studios are not required to get permission to show a product on film. In fact, companies often offer money to movie producers to ensure that their brands get some camera time. Budweiser, however, is not so eager to be seen as the drink of choice for a character with alcohol addiction.

“We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving,” Rob McCarthy, Budweiser’s vice president, wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. “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 theaters.”

(MORE: Can ‘Flight’ Give Denzel Washington’s Oscar Chances Lift-Off?)

Flight, which earned $25 million in its opening weekend, features several other booze brands. William Grant & Sons, the U.S. distributor of Stolichnaya vodka, has also complained that it did not give the film permission to show its drinks, the AP reports. The company said it follows strict guidelines to make sure its vodka is represented responsibly in cinema and it would not have agreed to have Stoli included in Flight.

Nonetheless, there is little the companies can do now about having their beverages removed from the film. Trademark laws do not grant companies the power to control when their items are included in movies, and the use of trademark products is protected under federal “fair use” laws, CBS News points out.  Thus, courts typically side with studios in such disputes. In 2003, Paramount won in a case brought against it by the makers of “Slip ‘N Slide” after the item was seen in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, the AP notes. Intellectual property lawyer Mark Partridge told the AP that in order to win against a filmmaker, a company would likely have to prove that audiences associate the product with the film in which it appears and believe the use was authorized.

Experts quoted in Marketing Magazine say Budweiser should tread carefully in its quarrel with Paramount, as its reaction could affect business for its sister brand, Stella Artois — which maintains deep connections with the movie industry and is distributed in the U.S. by Anheuser-Busch. Stella Artois helped sponsor the 2012 Chicago Film Festival and it will sponsor the Cannes Film Festival until 2015.

MORE: How Budweiser Is Trying to Lose Its Stale Image and Appeal to Young Drinkers