The Background is Owned

Brian Flemming explains a new problem confronting documentary filmmakers: “the background is owned.” Christopher Sims started shooting a documentary film, “An Army, One by One,” about Army recruiting in 2002, but cannot show the film without being sued because much of his footage includes corporate logos in the background. These logos are, Brian notes, “incidental.” They just happen to be in the background when Sims was filming, but as Flemming notes, “A corporation can (and often will) sue simply because you caught a trademark or copyrighted media product in the background of a shot.” Of course, on another level, these images are far from incidental, in that any film that presents an uncomfortable argument can be silenced in our spectacular culture. Guess I won’t be making that documentary about NASCAR dads any time soon.

As Brian notes, this practice has dangerous implications in terms of who is allowed to speak, who is allowed access to the public sphere:

If you’re a media corporation, and one of your primary goals is control, it’s a great trick. Clutter every part of our lives with logos, advertisements, video, music and other media–and then demand veto power when someone tries to document the world. Because you own it. At its most extreme, this scheme would require everyone who ever made anything about the world around them to get permission to share their work.

You can see Chistopher Sims’ film here.

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