A great many tech (and other) companies feature media logos on their websites. The practice is legal in the U.S. but companies should be cautious to avoid confusion.
It is important for young companies, or companies that are otherwise at the start of a thought leadership trajectory, to find third party endorsers that can bolster their credibility. They can do this through multiple ways on their owned, earned, and even paid channels. Media relations are one very valuable part of this strategy because the media not only brings their reach, but also their own credibility to the table. Put differently, the media offer both amplification and endorsement.
Companies will not only typically put the logos of the media that feature them on their website (the above the fold homepage being a popular spot for this), but will even seek out media coverage in big name media outlets just to get that logo on their site. More than once have I been asked in the last few years if this practice was even legal. The answer is that it is (in the United States anyways), but that some precautionary principles are best adhered to.
Fair use of tech media trademarks
Tech companies are allowed to put the logos of much coveted media on their website because “fair use” trademark practices allow them to.
Fair use constitutes an exception to the general rule that one can never use the trademark of someone else out of fear of causing confusion in the marketplace. The name and logo of a media outlets are trademarks. The International Trademark Association explains in this article that there are two types of fair use. Descriptive fair use allows the use of another’s trademark in order to describe the user’s products or services. Nominative fair use permits the use of another’s trademark in order to refer to that trademark owner’s goods and services.
When you put the logo of a media outlet on your website, you are making use of this nominative fair use – but do mind, you can and should only do this if
- the product or service in question is not readily identifiable without use of the trademark
- only so much of the mark is used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service is used
- the use of the mark does not suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark owner
Often you will see companies that mention the media that covered them through small size logos and you will not see above the logos copy along the lines of “as featured in” or “as seen in.” That line of copy is important, because it makes the relationship with the media clear and transparent. The tech media that covered your company in the past are neither sponsors or business partners, no, they simply wrote about the company that is now putting their logo on their website.
Finally, attorneys who publish on the matter, as does, for example, Elizabeth Potts Weinsten in this useful write-up, will typically advise companies to also consult media branding guidelines before they use a media outlet’s logo. This is in principal sound legal advice, but the reality is that the large majority of media outlets do not make these guidelines available to external audiences, meaning that tech companies that use the current media logo (they will be able to capture it easily from the media’s website), respect the integrity of the asset (no application of color filters, etc.) and apply the rules laid out above have very little to be concerned about.
Although content of a legal matter was discussed in this blog post, none of this article, or any other article on this site, is meant to be considered as legal counsel. Consult an attorney for any compliance concerns you might have.
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