Can I mention real-life companies/ pop culture/ people in my script?


(Pia) #1

I want to write a college student web series with a lot of pop culture and social media references but then I got worried that if I mention Facebook or The Good place I might get in trouble? I know some TV shows and movies will make up fake social media sites and stuff but I wasn’t sure what the rules were


I am Making a Period Piece. What is Protected by Copyright?
(Bri Castellini) #2

I feel like you can definitely mention whatever you want, if the characters aren’t working at one of these places or going to fake offices or whatever. The reason I think some shows avoid mentioning by name is to make their script more brand-friendly or to take more creative license with references (I’m thinking about the fake TV show Cate Morland is a fan of in @hiamandataylor and @chelsaat’s Cate Morland Chronicles)

@gmcalpin you can probably talk more expertly about real-life movies being mentioned.


(Bri Castellini) #3

Also tying your show to a specific era in pop culture might make it less topical a few months from now, which is a concern to consider if you aren’t IMMEDIATELY producing/releasing it.


(Bri Castellini) #4

Hayyyy @idgafwebseries I see u there. Any thoughts? :slight_smile:


(Ollie R) #5

You definitely can. Only visible things or excerpts of songs need material releases. Simply saying the name is different than displaying something material like a logo or a clip or something


(Herman Wang) #6

We feel relatively safe making Harry Potter references in our show The Spell Tutor because JK Rowling/Warner Bros. have made a public stance of being fairly permissive of fan works, so long as certain guidelines are followed.

If you try to reference a brand whose owner hasn’t done this, you run a higher risk of receiving a cease-and-desist, which in the worst case could mean being forced to remove the episode(s) in question from public viewing.


(Ollie R) #7

Can you really get a cease-and-desisst for mentioning you got a creepy Facebook message? (I dunno what OP is gonna use Facebook mentioning but that’s an example I assumed would be relevant)


(Herman Wang) #8

The likelihood is debatable, but brand owners are within their rights to send one, as I understand it.

For one episode we made up a fake coffee chain to avoid using a real one, the thinking being that zero risk is better than low risk.


(Ollie R) #9

not trying to be argumentative for the record, but what would be within their rights exactly? If my character, for instance, said “Dude keeps sending me creepy Facebook messages. Should I block him?”

Just curious about the legality exactly


(Herman Wang) #10

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer :slight_smile:

If you’re stating something that happened in real life, I think brand owners have more limited rights, if you can back up everything you’re saying. And I think fair use comes into play in this case too.

But if you’re writing fiction, then Zuckerberg could argue that “receiving creepy messages” casts Facebook in a negative light, in a worst-case scenario. And fair use doesn’t really apply to commercial ventures like fiction series.


(Ollie R) #11

I guess that makes sense. Didn’t we use to have a lawyer on this forum? The dude behind @HistoryWebs is one, right? I remember reading an article from him a while back. Curious if he could weigh in.


(Idgafwebseries) #12

Sorry just saw this! Under one of my billion tabs i leave open haha.
I honestly have no advice here but I do wonder the same. For example i have a bit in my script where my character gets in an Uber and had a discussion with the driver but I’m not sure if I can reference uber or say anything that might make a joke about them.


(Barbara Mc Thomas) #13

I am not a lawyer either, but I seriously doubt Quentin Tarantino gets permission from every rights holder for every verbal pop culture reference he makes. Or the author of Ready Player One. Or any book or movie that references real world events, products, or media. A character saying he googled something or tweeted, or checked Facebook or ate at McDonalds - these are ubiquitous presences in everyday life.

Now using a lot of pop culture references may be a bad idea for other reasons - it dates your work (you never see 80s sitcom Murphy Brown in syndication for example, because it’s a time capsule of 80s pop culture.) And you run the risk of substituting pop culture references for actual jokes/humor.


(Barbara Mc Thomas) #14

The Scriptnotes podcast covered this topic today. If you’ve never listened to Scriptnotes before, it’s a podcast about screenwriting hosted by John August (Big Fish, Go, Charlie’s Angels, Frankenweenie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Craig Maizin (Hangover movies, Identity Thief).

Their verdict - verbal references are fine.