The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is as serious about trademark infringement of their image as Disney is about the unsanctioned depiction of Mickey Mouse.
The Academy has 20 individual rules governing the use of any of its trademark and copyrighted symbols as well as six separate policies for the use of clips from Academy Award presentations, including their exploitation in televised obituary news reports.
That's why most of the current movie ads which mention the words "Oscar" or "Academy Award" contain a registered trademark symbol (an R in a circle). It may cause graphic clutter, but it's necessary, says the Academy's executive director, Bruce Davis.
"The words Oscar and Academy Awards as well as the gold Oscar statue have been registered for some time," says Davis. "But in the past 10 years we've gotten more meticulous about enforcement."
The Oscar statuette was registered as a trademark (and copyrighted) in 1975, with the words Oscar and Academy Awards following in 1979. Stricter enforcement in recent years has arisen from misuse of these symbols as if they were generic.
"People have come to think of the Oscars as a national symbol," says the Academy's attorney, David Quinto, of Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Oliver.
This has resulted in unsanctioned use of the Academy's trademark and copyrighted property as well as some egregious attempts to subvert truth in advertising.
In particular, Quinto mentions a U.S. Postal Service ad campaign several years back which featured the Academy Award statuette, and copy claiming that the postal service should be commended for its "Oscar quality service."
Over the past two to three years, says executive administrator Ric Robertson, the Academy has threatened litigation against Toyota's ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, the sporting goods manufacturer Prince and Royal Carribean, all of which made unauthorized use of the Oscar statuette in print ads and commercials touting their products. Cash settlements were reached in each instance.
Editorial use of the trademark when mentioning Oscars or Academy Awards is not mandatory as long as it refers to the annual event or clearly mentions the award itself. But when quotes are lifted from critics or journalists to promote Oscar-worthiness in advertising, the trademark symbol should be present.
Most studios have recently taken it upon themselves to comply with this in their ads. One exception was an ad for Warner Bros.' "Cobb" in which the word Oscar is unaccompanied. "Nobody (from the Academy) has ever discussed it with us," says Rob Friedman, ad/marketing head at Warner Bros., referring to the omission.
Robertson admits that review-quote ads fall into a gray area. Technically (and legally) the studios should use the trademark but it isn't really a serious infringement, in that it doesn't misappropriate the Oscar in the manner of the post office or Royal Carribean, which used the Academy symbols to tout other products.
However, if quotes are used in any way to mislead readers about the Oscar, that's another matter, says Quinto. For instance, no ads can show an Oscar statuette simply if the film has been nominated (as you can with the Golden Globes).
And for those who wish to capitalize on Tom Hanks' or Holly Hunter's Oscar wins last year by reissuing an old flop of theirs on video, forget it. The Academy forbids such deception as having the public think that Hanks won his Oscar for "Volunteers" or Hunter for "Miss Firecracker." However, the actors can be touted as Oscar winners, as long as the year and the film for which they actually won is in the same size and type.