Anheuser-Busch has asked Paramount Pictures to obscure images of its Budweiser beer in the film "Flight," which stars Denzel Washington as a hero pilot accused of boozing before a plane crash.
A spokesman for Paramount declined to comment.
Robert McCarthy, the vice president of Budweiser, said in a letter to production company Image Movers and Paramount, that Anheuser-Busch had "no knowledge of the use or portrayal of Budweiser," Reuters reported.
"We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. It is disappointing that Image Movers, the production company, and Paramount chose to use one of our brands in this manner," McCarthy said in a statement.
Monica Riva Talley, an attorney who specializes in trademark law with Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, said, "Although brands would love to be able to exercise complete control over the way they are portrayed to the public, Anheuser-Busch will likely face an uphill battle in trying to enjoin use of the Budweiser brand name in the context of the film."
"Courts are very reticent to restrict the First Amendment right to creative expression based on negative portrayal of a brand name in a movie, provided use of the trademark/brand name has some artistic relevance to the work," she said, citing similar cases such as the recent ruling dismissing Louis Vuitton's lawsuit against Warner Brothers over use of knock-off handbags in a scene in "The Hangover Part II."
Other alcoholic beverages are featured in the film, which portrays Washington as an airline pilot who struggles with addiction.
According to the Associated Press, Stoli distributor William Grant & Sons did not license the brand for use in the film.
"Considering the subject matter of this film, it is not something in which we would have participated," James Curich, spokesman for William Grant & Sons, told the AP.
Smirnoff and Absolut did not immediately return requests for comment.
Matt Patches, movies editor at Hollywood.com, said production teams do not technically have to ask for permission to use a logo.
"The general practice on a film set is to go through publicity of a company and make sure everyone is on the same page, and often get free product for use in the movie," he said.
The film "Flight" "depends on the brands" for a realistic portrayal, he said.
"We need to see that Denzel Washington's character is dependent on products we can find at the local store, if only to drive home the emotional impact of his alcoholism," he said. "If Paramount was worried about licensing the products through Anheuser-Busch because of the subject matter, it's easy to see why we are only hearing complaints about the logo after the fact."
When asked if this was a publicity stunt, Patches said it's possible it was not a stunt but, "As they say: all press is good press. We were not talking about Budweiser yesterday."