To use a copyrighted product one must either use the fair use clause of copy right or receive approval from the copy right holder, this can be a long process. Copy right can be pretty obvious for something like a movie clip or song, but what about a painting? Obviously if it is the focus of a scene it should be cited and permission should be received to use it, but it gets a little tricky if it is in the background such as in the case of Ringgold v. Black Entertainment Television.
In this case Faith Ringgold sued BET, and HBO for there use of a poster of her work as a set decoration in the show ROC.
In the show a poster of Ringgold’s work Church Picnic is seen in a church but is never mentioned by any cast member or made the focus of the feature.
This case ended in BET,and HBO’s favor as it was decided that the use of the poster fell under fair use.
This case illustrates to me the need to be as careful as possible what goes on to your film, just because BET,and HBO won their court case doesn’t mean they didn’t have to pay the legal fees to defend themselves. While legal fees for a major television network are probably just a drop in the bucket, for a independent filmmaker they could drain your budget and kill your film.