What Do Character Licensing Fees Actually Cost?

Business By carolynmaples Updated 18 May 2015 , 9:54pm by Happyfood

carolynmaples Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 8:57pm
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I've been a little curious lately as I've seen a lot of local bakeries using licensed characters, and when I own a cake business I'd like to do the same without any legal frustration. I know there's a lot of debate over when someone can and can't use licensed characters without paying the fees, but what do these fees actually cost? Has anyone out there gotten a quote for or paid licensing fees? It seems like they must be hefty if everyone's avoiding them.

44 replies
johnson6ofus Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 10:22pm
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I think they don't pay the fees but do it anyway.  I think purchased deco-paks are the only way most people do it, legally. 


I read once (here in CC) where a baker asked the company that makes "Old Bay" seasoning and they said ok (free) and even posted her cake on their facebook page. And I think I read about some universities saying ok too. I also understand that anything Disney is off limits as they strictly control it. 


Interesting question, and I can't wait to see if anyone knows

costumeczar Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 10:38pm
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I did the Old Bay cake that they posted, and I recently did one with Grey Goose vodka that they posted too. But cartoon characters are a different story. If you want to fill out the form here to find out a quote you can find out from Disney, but it looks really specific. You'd have to get permission to use specific images for specific purposes, or so it seems. http://disneystudiolicensing.com/

 I've gotten permission from some colleges and professional sports teams to use their logos and mascots, then other ones are total jerks about it. I've had people get turned down for permission for things I've been given permission to do, too, so I think that it sometimes depends on who you talk to.

Happyfood Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 10:57pm
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I love to browse cake sites on line.  I have noticed a few people who think they are getting around the licensing issue by simply renaming a cake they created and sold to a client.   For instance, a local bakery had made a few of the characters from the "Cars" movie.  They posted these cakes with a generic name like "red car"  and "blue car".  Guess they thought they were going be able to hide.  :)   Now I do not have a law degree but I would think the only safe way to create a cake with a licensed character would be to purchase the figures (or toys, etc) and add them to a cake.  You have purchased the product and have free will to use them as you see fit.

Can anyone with a legal background confirm this? I agree with Johnson6ofus, unless you can gain permission from the copyright holder, you can not legally reproduce the image or figure.

On a related note - I know first hand how strict those Disney people can be!  I had a friend that had a ceramics studio.  I went with her from time to time when she purchased her greenware.  She purchased a few Disney characters complete with the Disney logo on the back from a greenware supplier - it appeared that everything was fine.   A few weeks later a man with a brief case showed up at her studio and confiscated all of her Disney greenware.  Pretty creepy and she was out the money she paid for these green pieces because she had purchased an illegal item.  Guess the greenware supplier was in trouble and they went to collect what he was illegally selling to others.  She never figured out how Disney was able to discover this guy but did not purchase any more licensed products after that incident.

carolynmaples Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 11:32pm
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Yeah, trying to dodge those legal barriers seems like a big risk to take, especially financially. The article that piqued my interest was from the cakeboss software website - http://www.cakeboss.com/Cake-Stuff/Articles/Copyrighted-Cakes

I guess I'm wondering if the risk of loss in a lawsuit is worth avoiding paying licensing fees? Like, are these fees a down payment of millions of dollars, or 90% of the profits or something? What's everybody avoiding so much they'd be willing to risk getting sued instead of applying and paying for permission?

jason_kraft Posted 29 Apr 2015 , 11:54pm
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The penalty for copyright infringement is either the copyright owner's actual damages and the profits of the infringer, OR statutory damages which are a minimum of $750 and a maximum of $30,000 per infringement. So if you sell 30 infringing cakes and are found guilty at trial, the minimum fine would be $22,500 plus attorney's fees. High statutory damages are why most copyright infringement cases are settled out of court.

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html#504

johnson6ofus Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 12:05am
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Costumeczar--- that was a great cake (Old Bay) !!! And lesson for others on how to "do it right". Asking for permission.  Do we are "do it right?" No. But at least you may be aware of the risks from the links posted above. 

mellee2012 Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 3:44pm
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As an off shoot of this question, if you purchase the character and place it on the cake, can you then make the cake the character as well?

craftybanana2 Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 4:02pm
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you cannot reproduce a copyrighted image/character and sell it. You can sell figurines (toys etc) that you place on the cake. You just can't make them yourself. You can make the cake the background for the toy though.

mellee2012 Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 4:04pm
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Thank you for that clarification.  

craftybanana2 Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 4:05pm
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Mellee, if you mean buy a Disney cars toy and make a Disney cars cake in the likeness of one of the characters,then no. The toy is fine, the cake is not (because the cake would be a copyright image which you don't have permission to reproduce).

mellee2012 Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 4:08pm
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That was more my question, I am a home baker trying to start a business and get lots of requests for copyrighted images and was trying to find a way to keep the customer happy and myself legal.  


DebECakes Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 5:03pm
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I thought I would chime in on another Disney scenario.  Several years ago my husband was managing a small chain of piano stores.  One of these stores was in a corner location on the upper level of a mall.  They had purchased a few cardboard standup Disney characters and placed them on the carpet at the edge of the store's premises.  Within hours they received a call from a Disney representative with a cease and desist order.  They are everywhere to protect their interests.  I also knew of a cake decorator who several years ago was fined for selling Disney cakes.

carolynmaples Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 8:03pm
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Is Disney so strict that obtaining the permission in the first place is near impossible?

johnson6ofus Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 8:31pm
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Quote by @carolynmaples on 25 minutes ago

Is Disney so strict that obtaining the permission in the first place is near impossible?

Not near impossible--- just impossible. Unless you are a world known artist, celebrity, etc... forget it.  They are the "standard" for ferocious trademark and image protection.

kakeladi Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 9:06pm
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Quote by @DebECakes on 3 hours ago

I thought I would chime in on another Disney scenario......purchased a few cardboard standup Disney characters.  Within hours they received a call from a Disney representative with a cease and desist order.  They are everywhere to protect their interests.  I also knew of a cake decorator who several years ago was fined for selling Disney cakes.

 

Sorry - don't understand how this quote this works........here's my reply to the above

The major reason they are everywhere is that the law says whoever holds the copyright must police the misuse of it themselves.   Years ago Francis Kuyper who was  the *original*  "Cake Lady" told me that.  She had the name copyrighted and it was up to her to keep anybody else from using it.

 Within hours they received a call from a Disney representative with a cease and desist order.  They are everywhere to protect their interests
Read more at http://www.cakecentral.com/forum/t/795228/what-do-character-licensing-fees-actually-cost#post_7595095#1cciU1jtblvMXooj.99
 Within hours they received a call from a Disney representative with a cease and desist order.  They are everywhere to protect their interests
Read more at http://www.cakecentral.com/forum/t/795228/what-do-character-licensing-fees-actually-cost#post_7595095#1cciU1jtblvMXooj.99

carolynmaples Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 11:07pm
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Quote by @johnson6ofus on 2 hours ago

Not near impossible--- just impossible. Unless you are a world known artist, celebrity, etc... forget it.  They are the "standard" for ferocious trademark and image protection.

What about other companies like Hasbro? Are they as strict?

johnson6ofus Posted 30 Apr 2015 , 11:19pm
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As long as I have read these forums, and been a member, I really only heard stories about Disney. EVERY company has the right to protect, and should do so under the "use it or lose it" laws. It's just a matter of how much they invest in infringement protection. And Disney has set that bar really, really high. 

I know a local cake supply that does edible image printing , wouldn't do a monopoly board, for that reason. I haven't "heard" about Hasbro being supper aggressive, but that doesn't mean they can't or won't.  

In a world of 100% perfect morality, you cannot and should not steal the intellectual property of anyone.

In cake world reality, I think many do infringe, until they get "caught", which usually means a cease and desist letter or threat, but as Jason quoted, could be great fines as well. I imagine, that would be based on how much $$$ you made infringing. If you became Charm City Cakes, I bet they would sue you for a cash settlement if your portfolio was marketing their images. 


SensationalCakesAndMore Posted 1 May 2015 , 12:01am
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If you purchase a licensed character pan or cookie cutter, can you sell the resultant creation, or are they intended for personal use only?

costumeczar Posted 1 May 2015 , 12:26am
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Quote by @SensationalCakesAndMore on 20 minutes ago

If you purchase a licensed character pan or cookie cutter, can you sell the resultant creation, or are they intended for personal use only?

 Personal use only, most of them say that somewhere on the pan or the packaging. They don't always make it obvious but it's there somewhere.

 What I find ironic about this entire issue is that people will try to find a million ways to get around the law and make character cakes, but if someone takes one of their cake pictures and puts it on their website they pitch a fit and the tar and feathers come out. Think about it that way...If you don't want someone stealing your photos and using them, why is it okay to use the intellectual property of other people? It's not.

fdusing Posted 1 May 2015 , 3:27pm
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So, am I understanding this correctly?  You can purchase toys/toppers and use on a cake, but you cannot recreate an image/character in edible form?  I have used a couple Sofia the First toys as toppers/decorations on my niece's cake, which the toys/cake were a part of her gift from my other half (her uncle) and I.  I just want to be sure I'm not breaking any laws.  I *someday* would LOVE to be a licensed, legal baker, and learned quickly (from posting here) that there are rules/laws that definitely need to be followed.  So I'd hate to break myself before I even get my feet of the ground.

fdusing Posted 1 May 2015 , 3:29pm
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On a side note.. I really hate when I think I proof read a post well before submitting, and then after submitting I discover a typo/misspelled word.


I intended to say "... before I even get my feet *off not of* the ground."

kakeladi Posted 1 May 2015 , 7:36pm
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Quote by @fdusing on 4 hours ago

.....understanding this correctly?  You can purchase toys/toppers and use on a cake, but you cannot recreate an image/character in edible form? .......

Yes, that is right.  I know of one bakery that refused to even put them on a cake -- would sell separately to customer and sell cake telling them where/how to add to cake.  That was there was no chance of there being a problem. 

BTW:  It is not unlawful to *make* a cake - like for family - but........NO money in any form ($$; barter; pay for ingredients etc) can change hands - that's when it becomes unlawful.

fdusing Posted 1 May 2015 , 7:40pm
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@kakeladi, thank you for the response!  So I could make a Frozen cake for my daughter and it wouldn't be unlawful?

ypierce82 Posted 1 May 2015 , 8:22pm
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Quote by @fdusing on 41 minutes ago

@kakeladi, thank you for the response!  So I could make a Frozen cake for my daughter and it wouldn't be unlawful?

 Exactly. I did one for my daughter, and I bought some of the mini figures to put on. Perfectly acceptable.

Happyfood Posted 2 May 2015 , 3:04am
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I am going to look for the legal disclaimers on those shaped cake pans.  I have not purchased any of them before.

Happyfood Posted 2 May 2015 , 3:09am
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Except for the skull pan but it is not a licensed character.  :)


johnson6ofus Posted 2 May 2015 , 3:10am
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http://www.wilton.com/shapedpans/browse.cfm


You can see on this web page how even the listing is marked.

camomama5 Posted 16 May 2015 , 1:22pm
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A little off topic, but Disney has become extremely greedy and I think that's all it is. Greed. If any of you have spent a good amount of time in Disney World over the course of their lifetime, you will know exactly what I'm talking about! They seem to have one hand in everything these days. You would think they could afford to let a few things slide a little. I'm sure the only reason they care about copyright infringement is because it is another source of revenue. I'd like to know how much they make on this in a year.  I complain, but guess who keeps going back to Disney World......

johnson6ofus Posted 16 May 2015 , 2:46pm
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Nope... not greed. They protect it or they lose it.

Disney doesn't want Snow White spread "open" on a bachelorette cake, if you know what I mean.... Or Elsa with a nice "rack". The only way they can do that is aggressive copyright protection. The law says protect it, or lose it. Obviously the more popular and known the art is, the more others try to rip it off. 

My son's friend was hired out of college by Pixar.  A very talented artist in her own right and a great portfolio. They started on day one "teaching" her to draw. They invest a lot of money in their talented artists, and they have the right,  and must protect both their investment and their art.

Disney is a huge company, with investors and expenses. They have the right to turn a profit on their work, both intellectual and physical. Just because Disney is big, doesn't make them "bad guys" for protecting their investments. 

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