Copyrights and Copy-Cakes: Know the Risks

02
Oct
2014

Preparing for a ‘Frozen’ party or ‘Mickey Mouse’ event? Wait, have you asked Walt about that?

It’s actually pretty simple to get permission from media companies to use a character for a private event. And understanding the risks you assume if you don’t get that permission is important. Let’s take a look at how you can keep your theme idea, make that grand cake, and do so without legal troubles for you or your cake decorator.

It’s a Case for Rights and Wrongs

Under the current copyright law in the United States you must obtain permission from the copyright owner if you want to use their design on any item, including cakes, in which an exchange of money takes place to receive. This includes TV, cartoon, & movie characters, sports teams, University logos, fashion labels and more.

The owner of a copyright has these exclusive rights:

  • To reproduce the work
  • To distribute the work
  • To create derivative works (this includes art reproduction)
  • To publicly perform or display the work
  • To publicly perform sound recordings by means of a digital audio transmission

Making sure you have written permission to use the copyrighted design ensures you and your cake decorator are not liable and possibly subjected to any of the following penalties for copyright infringement:

  • Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.
  • The law provides up to $150,000 for each work infringed.
  • Infringer pays for all attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.
  • The Court can impound the works and the infringer can go to jail

But Will They Ever Even Know?

You may be thinking, this is just for my child’s birthday party… no giant company is going to care or even see it, so why does it matter? Well, that’s where things get dangerous. How likely is it that someone at the party (even you) may take a photo? Where will that photo go? With today’s social media sharing it is likely that your cake will make an appearance out in the web, be shared, & be visible to a most anyone. Large companies do have teams working to protect the image of the company and its products. They actually are looking.

But I want my 3-D minion cake, Mom!

That’s ok! We’re here to help you start (and do so legally!)

At American Dream Cakes, we require a written document from the copyright holder to be in hand before we sell any baked good with its likeness.

Here are 3 options to help you get the cake that best fits your event theme without the threat of fines and court-time hanging over your head.

  1. You Can Just Ask!
    If your husband has to have that UNC cake or your daughter has promised a massive tantrum if her cake doesn’t look exactly like her favorite scene from ‘Frozen,’ just ask the owner. This may take a bit of time, but often a simple phone call is all it takes. Talk to the owner and ask them for a one-time use for creative properties permission for your local baker to re-create their character or logo on a cake for a personal event. Be sure you get them to send you the permission in writing, by email or snail-mail.We’ve done some of the initial leg-work for you. Here’s a list of contacts for some of the most popular copyrighted characters:

  2. You Can Use Licensed Figurines.
    Many major companies such as Disney and Nintendo sell figurines of their most popular characters. When you purchase one of these products from a licensed retailer you are paying a copyright fee. Then your baker can create a background scene for those figurines. In the case of a school or team logo, your baker can use the school colors and include the emblem figurine you purchased in the design.
  3. You Can Go Generic.
    Ok, “generic” doesn’t sound great, but it doesn’t have to be boring! Some items like trees, bears, and tigers are too universal to be copyright protected. It is when you make the bear yellow with red a shirt and have the tiger bouncing on his tail that problems arise. A group of animals in a forest can be just as fun and creative as one that specifically says ‘Welcome to the Hundred Acre Wood.’ If you can’t secure permission or find the right figurines, look for a way to incorporate the theme with the spirit of the copyrighted theme/items.

It might take a step or two to secure legal permission to use a copyrighted character or emblem when purchasing from another party, but it’s much better than trying to explain to a judge why you didn’t bother.   No one wants to be stuck in that position, so plan ahead and go that extra mile to ensure your loved one’s cake is truly grand.

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