Questions about grocery store items as characters

comradeogilvy

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I've been thinking about a short story where the protagonist is a can of Campbell's soup...probably tomato soup. It's kind of important to the plot that the grocery items be branded. Are there any obstacles to using brand names in a story?
 

Wayne Mack

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Andy Warhol painted cans of Campbell's Soup and I believe some of them hang in the Museum of Modern Art. I doubt using a can of soup is a short story would be problematic.
 

Bramandin

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I wonder if Andy Warhol and what must have been legal battles for him must have set as precedent.

I do remember a photo-teacher saying that a student who did cemetery-photos could get into trouble, but that might have been offending families, not corporation just-legally-people.
 

The Judge

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Using branded products is fine provided there is no defamation involved and no breach of trademark ownership (and the latter is highly unlikely if it's just a short story you're writing). Here's a precis of a talk I gave in the issue for the Chronscast, with links the podcasts and therefore the talks themselves. The Toolbox -- The Important Bits
 

farntfar

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I think it depends on the brand, whether they'll try to sue or not.
I remember a story years ago about Harrods trying to sue someone in Australia (I think) for opening a shop called Harrod's Stores despite it being the only store in the little town of Harrod, New South Wales. (E&OE)
And wasn't there a story recently about someone opening a pub called the Fortnam's Coach and Horses in the town of Fortnam in Dorset. (In this case I'm sure I have all the names wrong. So don't be surprised if you can't google it. It certanly wasn't Fortnam, and the pub name had something to do with Lamb.)

I also suspect you could have trouble if you create an arch-villain called Mister Whippy who had evil henchmen called Ben and Jerry. So use a bit of care.
 

The Judge

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The shop and pub issues are matters of trademark infringement/passing off, but fortunately that has little, if anything, to do with works mentioning them -- there are plenty of books in which companies such as Harrods and Fortnums are specifically named without causing any problems, so as long as the companies aren't defamed in any way, it's fine.

Defamation is likely to be an issue if the named ice cream/soup causes widespread food poisoning, or is said to contain illicit ingredients, or aspersions are cast on the manufacturers' probity or ethics -- it's largely a question of using common sense in talking about them.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Defamation is likely to be an issue if the named ice cream/soup causes widespread food poisoning, or is said to contain illicit ingredients, or aspersions are cast on the manufacturers' probity or ethics -- it's largely a question of using common sense in talking about them.
Yes, it's not at all like Andy Warhol's soup can that just sits there on the canvas. On the other hand, depending on what it says and does, a walking, talking can of soup (or other product) might act in a way that the company identified with it might consider defamatory . One wouldn't like to go up against a company like Campbell's, with their deep pockets. But as you say, an application of common sense when creating the food item character ought to be sufficient.
 

comradeogilvy

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The idea is that the brand behaves as expected; some class prejudices of top brands vs. cheap brands...actually, I'm starting to forget where I was going with it. I thought of it last week and can't really remember the details, so it's probably a moot point.
 

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