Can I Use a Photo of the Mr. Peanut Logo on Postcards for Sale?

Question

I took a picture of Mr. Peanut on a jar of Planter's Peanuts. I know that Mr. Peanut is trademarked. But since I took the picture, can I use it any way I want? For example, I would like to put it on my personal website, and maybe even paste it onto a calendar I sell each year.

Answer

It is true that copyright law gives photographers certain exclusive rights over their photography. If you took a photograph of a peanut jar, for example, you have a copyright over that photograph. Another person or company cannot "steal" your picture and print it onto billboards.

However, this does not mean that you "own" anything that you happen to photograph. In this case, you photographed Mr. Peanut, one of the most recognizable trademarks in the food industry. A trademark gives its owner the exclusive right to use certain words, slogans, or images in commerce as a signifier of the source of goods.

Mr. Peanut is owned by Planters, a division of the major corporation Kraft Food Groups, Inc. When a consumer sees Mr. Peanut, they likely associate that mark very quickly with Planters. Kraft will surely police one of its most valuable symbols, which has near-universal recognition in the marketplace. Kraft would not be happy with the idea that an unaffiliated person is selling calendars, T-shirts, or other products with their trademark.

In other words, the mere fact that you photograph a trademark does not give you the right to take that image and reproduce it onto other items. This is particularly true if, as here, you intend to sell the items onto which you reproduce the image. Using the trademark of a major company like Kraft is asking for legal trouble.

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