Buying the Cow: Why Branding is Commonly Concealed in TV Shows and Movies

July 26, 2019
Post by Nicholas J. Krob

 Have you ever been watching a TV show and noticed that certain logos on various products were covered with tape or otherwise concealed? Do you know why that is?

If you don’t, you’re not alone. 

In a controversial video posted last month by guitar giant Gibson, the company issued a warning stating that it was going to “fight to protect its intellectual property.” In doing so, the company specifically addressed “all the people in the film and television and commercial industry,” admonishing them for “taping over the logos on the headstock [of Gibson guitars].” The company warned that such a practice was “not enough to [avoid] trademark infringement.” 

This legal position, however, is about as strong as Gibson’s headstocks themselves (for the non-guitar players out there: not strong at all). Ordinary use of a Gibson guitar—headstock logo and all—in a TV show, film, or commercial will generally not be considered trademark infringement in the first place. If the mere display of branded objects in telling a story did constitute trademark infringement, virtually any TV show or movie you’ve ever seen would be liable dozens of times over.

So why then are logos so commonly obfuscated in TV shows? As is so commonly the case, the answer is money. 

Producing a TV show or movie is an expensive endeavor. One of the best ways for studios to offset this cost is through product placement. Companies are often willing to pay significant sums to have their products featured in TV shows and movies to build brand awareness. After all, it’s no mystery why so many men want to drive an Aston Martin.

With this, studios have an incentive to keep companies happy and to also ensure they don’t “give the milk for free,” so to speak. What company would pay millions of dollars to have its branding included on a TV show if the studio didn’t take any steps to remove the branding in the absence of such an arrangement? Similarly, what company would be happy paying so much with competing brands sharing the screen? By hiding branding as a default, studios are thus able to maximize leverage when monetizing their TV shows and movies.

In the wake of public backlash, Gibson took down its “Play Authentic” video. Perhaps they finally realized that the way to get the tape off their headstock logos was to pony up some cash rather than issue idle threats.

Nicholas Krob is an Intellectual Property Attorney at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC specializing in Trademarks, Litigation, and Licensing. For additional information please visit or contact Nick directly via email at

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