Services & Software

Digital ads entangle "Spider-Man"

The upcoming film places scenes in Times Square but digitally changes its billboard advertising, a transformation that has the building owners climbing the walls.

The owners of coveted billboard space in Times Square are trying to tangle the makers of the "Spider-Man" movie in their own web of woes.

Alleging a litany of violations ranging from trespassing and piracy to deceptive trade practices, Sherwood 48 Associates and Super Sign have sued Sony and other companies involved in making and distributing the upcoming "Spider-Man" movie for digitally superimposing advertisements for other companies over their billboard space in the film.

As computers make it easier to manipulate video images, the issue of who owns the space that appears on-screen is likely to heat up in a battle over digital advertising and product placement.

In its suit, Sherwood and Super Sign allege they've lost revenue because their Times Square billboard space becomes less desirable if the companies can't guarantee exclusive placement both on-screen and offscreen.

The suit, which spends three pages describing the importance of Times Square--calling it a "one-of-a-kind advertising venue"--says teasers for the "Spider-Man" movie, set to be released in May, do not depict the area accurately. They say existing billboards are digitally altered in trailers and commercials for the film to show ads for companies such as USA Today and Cingular Wireless when Samsung and NBC should appear.

"Sherwood has not authorized defendants or anyone to distort the appearance" of the area, alleges the suit, filed Monday in New York federal court.

A representative for Cingular could not be immediately reached for comment. The wireless carrier has a marketing deal with Sony tied to the film that includes sweepstakes, service and phone promotions, and Spider-Man-themed ring tones and accessories. It was unclear whether the deal included placement in the film for Cingular.

A representative for USA Today said the newspaper did not pay for the placement. Sony declined to comment on the suit.

If the suit goes forward, a judge will likely decide whether makers of a movie about a fictional character have the right to place him in fictional surroundings as well.

Gwendolyn Mariano contributed to this report.