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I've seen a few instances recently where an app or website uses another company's logo and brand name in reference to something.

Some examples include using an internet service provider's logo and brand name to tell a user which ISP they are connected to. Or flight tracker apps using an airline's logo & brand name to tell the user the airline of a given flight.

My question is how is this legal? Those companies' logos are obviously copyrighted.

Is it considered fair use maybe? The reason why I'm skeptical about this is most fair use definitions I've heard focus on parodies, criticisms, or comments. It obviously isn't a parody or criticism. I guess you might be able to consider it commenting upon the work. However most of the time when I think about commenting upon work it means a review of the content.

So how are companies allowed to use other companies' logos in this context? Or do they actually acquire licenses/permission in these cases?

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    Related law.stackexchange.com/questions/46531/…
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 4, 2023 at 19:05
  • @ohwilleke Interesting. And yes, related. But doesn't exactly answer the question. Especially considering the the quote in the answer: Thus, a soft drink competitor would be entitled to compare its product to Coca-Cola or Coke, but would not be entitled to use Coca-Cola's distinctive lettering.. Dec 4, 2023 at 19:30
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    Does this answer your question? Why can't logos of companies be used by referring to nominative fair use?
    – Trish
    Dec 4, 2023 at 20:12
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    The text you have quoted from the answer is incorrect. PepsiCo did use Coca-Cola's distinctive lettering in its "Pepsi challenge" advertising campaign.
    – phoog
    Dec 5, 2023 at 0:11
  • @Trish the proposed duplicate question concerns trademark protection. This question is asking about copyright protection.
    – phoog
    Dec 5, 2023 at 0:13

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Company logos may be protected by copyright, but that requires two things: They must be eligible for copyright, meaning they need to above the so called "threshold of originality". In simple words, this means that they need to show some level of art, just basic letters and simple shapes aren't eligible for copyright. Second, the copyright must still exist, in the US, that typically means it must be younger than 95 years. The Coca Cola logo for instance fails this, as it's older than that and therefore public domain.

Additionally, trademark restrictions might apply. But trademark only prohibits the use of other logos and brands in a deceiving way. So you may not use the Coca Cola logo (despite that it is public domain) to sell your own limonade. But using it to advertise that your shop sells genuine Coca Cola is normally considered fine. Of course, it's very unlikely that the Coca Cola Company will object to that use of the logo, anyway.

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    Technically, putting the CocaColaCo gifted CocaCola sign in front of the shop that sells genuine CocaCola in genuine CocaCola bottles is advertizing the exact origin of his goods, which is how Trademark is intended
    – Trish
    Dec 5, 2023 at 10:42

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