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Consider a public web application that wants to 'look' better by including the use of corporate images. The imagery would be used to give the website visitor a choice: Coke or Pepsi, Starbucks or Dunkin, Yankees or Red Sox, etc.

It's a service that wants to enhancing the user experience by having those logos in place in the relevant spots. The web application would not be selling those images, or anything with the images. The site would be generating revenue via ads or paid services.

Is there a general accepted practice on the web regarding trademarked images or logos? Has this been legally tested in any jurisdiction?

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3 Answers 3

What you really need to know is whether you're going to get in legal trouble. For that, consult a lawyer specializing in copyright and trademark law (or "Intellectual Property" law). If anybody here is a lawyer, they aren't your lawyer unless you make such arrangements, and unless you post your jurisdictions they won't be able to help you even then.

You really, really don't want to invite a lawsuit, even if you win, unless you're a big enough company to handle it, and in that case you just ask your legal department. If not, talking to a lawyer for half an hour will be far cheaper than facing a lawsuit.

Using a copyrighted image without permission is illegal, and using the image in a commercial venture isn't going to help a fair use case in the US. Trademark law is in some respects nastier in the US, in that, if somebody finds out you're misusing their trademark, they have to do something about it or risk losing the trademark.

You can check with the companies involved. Some of them may have images you can use with policies you have to follow. Don't use any other images without legal advice.

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Some of the companies distribute logo imagery for everyone to accomodate in their projects.

Otherwise I believe it should fall under the "fair use" policy though I may be mistaken here.

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There is "fair use" and there is "Can I afford to fight" if they decide to push their claims? –  Loki Astari Apr 20 '11 at 22:28

You would have to consult with an Intellectual Property lawyer to be sure on that but I would be billing to bet that Pepsi and Coke would very much have something to say about using their logos to make money. Even though you aren't selling them you are still associating your site with their brand.

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