Copyright Help!!

Business By tessholly1 Updated 11 Dec 2015 , 12:36am by costumeczar

tessholly1 Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:28am
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I'm sure to all business owners more experienced then myself I'm going to sound so naive and a bit stupid but I did not have a clue until this morning about copyright for cakes!! I don't mean copying another decorators work but creating a cake based on a Disney character for example!! Should I be saying no to any cake like this?! I got asked recently to make a cake with a 'scream' mask on like in the movie.. Should I not be doing this either??!! So I'm looking for any advice I can get and in the simplest form possible because I just don't understand how this works!! Iv seen so many cakes made using film characters or Kids favourite to thing!! Ps I'm in the uk just in case that makes a difference in laws (I don't know) TIA :)

27 replies
Webake2gether Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 1:26pm
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I'm not sure if the laws change from the United States to the UK but the reason I don't do character cakes and copyrighted images without permission or paying for the licensing fee is bc for our business it's morally wrong as well as illegal here in the United States. I actually just updated my website with my character cake policy and why we chose not to do them.  I turn down customers all the time bc i won't do them illegally. You can go to any companies website and read their copyright infringement policy and it will state somewhere what is copyright protected. I can assure you if it's a popular character is copyright protected. Children's books are also copyright protected. I'm probably in the minority here but I feel like to use a copyrighted image without permission is taking away due royalties from the companies and artist who create them. So even if it's not necessarily illegal where you live or the laws can't be imposed on you doesn't make it any less wrong. But that's just my opinion :) character pans, molds etc are considered for home use and not for commercial use. They make deco pacs and edible images that can be purchased for use on cakes to be sold  but again you have to watch where you purchase them bc there are plenty of people who make them without the proper permission. I won't buy anything that isn't legit bc one cake isn't worth losing my business over. 

I did a character cake for my son's birthday long before we opened and I can't get the picture off of here or else I would. I to had no idea about the copyright laws and thought it was ok bc everyone was doing them so I began researching and found out that it's not ok so I will not do them. But everyone has the right to choose what they want to do and to some it might not be a big deal but personally it is to me. I don't want any trouble knocking on my door lol.

tessholly1 Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 1:41pm
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Thank you Webake2gether for replying. I honestly feel the same way you do, I would be so worried that I could get into trouble that it's not worth it. I just didn't realise what a huge deal it is because it seems the majority of cakes I see made are characters, books or films etc!! I just feel like I would also lose half my clients because I wouldn't be offering such cakes anymore and that seems to be at everyone wants!! So I'm trying to think of random examples to clarify.. Eg. Could you not decorate a cake to look like a well known book? Or what about cakes Iv seen made to look like game consoles!! Is it EVERYTHING like that. Unless you've created a floral design or your own fun kids design on a cake then you can't do it??! No cakes to look like branded cars, clothes, toys, books, films, shoes?? The more I think about the more I realise how much you probably aren't allowed to do :( 

Webake2gether Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 1:51pm
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The way I look at the loss of customers is you don't win them all anyway  plus you can offer background cakes which I think are way more fun that characters anyway. I hate the idea of having to do something exactly like its pictured to me that takes the fun out of the cakes for us. There will always be people who want what they want but then you'll have other people who are understanding and will be flexible to what you can offer them. I'm getting ready to send you a private message with some other information :) 

-K8memphis Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 1:55pm
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Amanda, wb2, you still have batman and mutant ninja turtles on your website -- heads up

Webake2gether Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 2:39pm
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Hey k8 heads up tmnt is legal. the batman aren't on there anymore I've gained access to my website and I have removed them. Also as I stated above I didnt sell that I don't advertise with it and that was the only time I did them was for my son and again did not know then what I know now. 

-K8memphis Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 2:47pm
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you're welcome

costumeczar Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 3:15pm
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I'm with @Webake2gether  on this issue, I don't do anything trademarked or copyrighted  unless I have permission from the copyright holder. You can write to the legal departments of a lot of companies and they'll give you permission to do a one-off cake, or a limited number per year without paying for a license, but for the big companies like Disney and Marvel (which Disney now owns) forget it. I've received permission from a bunch of places, though, so it's worth trying. Even if you get a "no" you'll know what their policy is for the future. If a customer is super insistent you can tell them that they need to get written permission from the trademark or copyright holder for you to do that particular cake, then you'll do it. Let them do the legwork.

Pastrybaglady Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 4:50pm
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It's difficult to get hold of someone who actually can and will give you permission.  I like the idea of asking the customer to obtain a letter of approval.  That way they will understand the difficulty or just change their request.

stephsweetreats Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 9:20pm
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This subject matter always gets me fired up because it is soooo frustrating because it feels like I am only moral baker that follows the copyright laws in my area.  I had to make myself stop looking at photos from my competition because almost EVER SINGLE ORDER breaks copyright laws.  The funny part is that I know the one very bad offender follows my businesses facebook page where I regularly remind customers of my views on the matter and the fact that I don't do it but will certainly purchase toys, have them purchase toys or fit the theme using colors.  I've also blogged about it and usually get a lot of people to share the posts to spread the word.  I am 95% positive the person has seen my posts on it....and still chooses to not care.  I'm also pretty positive they run their business out of their non-commercially licensed home.  So to say they are running huge risks with both is an understatement.

My favorite response from customers is when you tell them you can't legally do it and then give them other options the say...."well Susie (child) REALLY wants them done this way so....."   So you're telling me you don't care if it's illegal, your child wants it, so you'll find a baker who will do it.  Not a customer I want anyways I suppose.  Still frustrating though.

Sorry had to spew that out... haha so good to see there are fellow bakers on here that comply with the law!

I was able to get permission for book covers one time.  I had a girl who loved John Green books and wanted aspects from all his covers on her cake.  I contacted his legal person and she did give me permission as long as I didn't post any pictures, advertise with it in any way, or offer to others.  One time deal.  So it's not impossible, but big companies like Disney, colleges, sports team, etc. usually won't even get a response.

Webake2gether how were you able to find out the TMNT were legal?




Webake2gether Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:03pm
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I used a licensed deco pac.  that's the only way I do copyright protected images is with deco pacs or edible images that I pay the licensing fee for. I am doing a background cake for a where the wild things are party and I won't do the characters  I applied for permission and the reply could take 8 weeks so I told the client I couldn't do the characters without permission. It is not legal to do a tmnt  without a licensed deco pac or edible image the comment implying it wasn't legal was not accurate.

I too have blogged and posted about our policy and we are one of only a few legal bakers in our area and I'm pretty sure the only one who won't do character cakes with fondant or icing without permission. It pains me to see orders that came to me first end up being done by someone else but that's just part of the business when deciding to operate against the grain. I believe there is a greater reward for doing business honestly and legitimately and we strive for that.  I've learned to not concern myself too much with what others are doing especially if they aren't operating legally bc eventually they will burn out or get shut down. for each cake I turn away there are always more right around the corner so win some lose some but at least I don't have anything to worry about at the end of the day :) 

costumeczar Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:05pm
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@stephsweetreats  I got permission from the Redskins a few years ago, and I had to jump through ridiculous hoops but I got permission from the Phillies to do a Phanatic cake. They were jerks about it, I had to argue with the guy on the phone because he didn't seem to understand that I couldn't do a cake and let them approve it before I delivered it.

And if a customer says "I can get Suzie Q to do it" just tell them "I'm sure that you can find someone to do it, but I like to keep everything legal to keep my standards high." that way they can go get it from someone with lower standards than you have, haha.

costumeczar Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:07pm
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@Webake2gether  That's true about being able to sleep at the end of the day, plus you're teaching your kids that being honest is the right way to do things even if it's inconvenient. And that's WAY more important than making money  in the long run. 

Webake2gether Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:19pm
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@costumeczar  I'm pretty sure everything I do is inconvenient by most standards lol. Once I know something is wrong I can't do it. There are no gray areas with me. I always tell my husband we might get really good one day and have some attention called to us....wishful thinking haha. I don't cut corners I don't cheat anyone and I won't start in any way shape or form. I'm not ashamed and I've got nothing to hide I'll be honest and forthcoming  and if I lose customers over it oh well. I've lost 2 in the last 2 weeks and I'm sure those cakes will pop up online soon. It amazes me how people will sacrifice quality for character cakes. but I guess you want what you want but you ain't getting it from me ;)

stephsweetreats Posted 8 Dec 2015 , 10:21pm
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@Webake2gether  ahh yes, sorry I didn't realize you were referring to one specific example of TMNT with the decopac.  I too do the decopac or licensed edible image when needed.  I'm with you on their being a greater reward for complying.  I get not realizing there's copyright laws (I was in that boat when I just baked for family and friends) but as soon as I found out I would never do it again if it wasn't for a nonpaying family member.  I feel like knowing the law and choosing to break it just makes those companies immoral and money hungry because of course character cakes are the most popular.


@costumeczar  that's crazy!  They should be happy you were contacting them instead of just doing it without permission.  I wish it were easier to get permission.  Those who ask for permission should be rewarded, not argued with.  And I couldn't agree with you more on just letting the customers go elsewhere.  I have customers who pride me on standing my grounds on the issue.  If someone is not one of them, they can go ahead and teach their kid that lesson of getting what they want even if it's illegal.  I just refuse to be a part of it.  

So relieving to hear you guys also feel so strongly about this issue!


Happyfood Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 4:49am
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I find this topic interesting and try to read the threads when they come up because they are always great.  Correct me if I am wrong, but "home use" is fine - that meaning you are simply making a cake for someone and not getting paid for it.  However, you are leaving yourself at risk if you, as a business, choose to create and profit off of a copyrighted product.  At lest this is what I have garnered from all of the threads covering this subject.



costumeczar Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 12:36pm
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@Happyfood  Sort of... if you're just making a cake for your kid's birthday by modeling figures and that kind of thing nobody's going to come to get you, but I think the complete legality of doing it is still questionable. If you buy one of the character pans then the company that owns the trademark get their licensing fee, and you can make those for home use only no problem.

One of my friends was the first one to do that stacked superhero cake with the different character symbols and colors per tier, and she wasn't thinking about the copyright issues at the time. She says that she lives in fear that someone will trace it back to her and sue the pants off of her, but she's also concerned about the zombie apocalypse, so she tends to worry too much.

-K8memphis Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 1:11pm
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happyfood -- so long as your images are posted on a personal non business web site or not posted at all -- but it's true that copyright issues have become more strident strict and far reaching over the years since i've been doing cakes --

i've done hundreds of character cakes and pictures of all kinds of copyrighted items for pay one way or another but for example i guess in the late 80's into the 90's is when the awareness of retail bakeries, including supermarkets would get whacked big time for using all the character pans came into being and it's spread, thickened to what it is today -- with peeps afraid to budge on any of it -- plus the use of the decopacks has to be exactly as pictured no deviations --

i used to have a website and i had several things on there but removed them due to all this -- like jedi k said once, that i had become a believer -- the website was never connected to a business -- and it's easy to 'forget' about a copyright or two especially if something is made for family/friends which mine were --

so i don't think they are necessarily coming after us because we are conscientious but it's easier to deal with clients if as we keep it all cleaned up

Webake2gether Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 1:44pm
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@Happyfood  being in business now even for my kids I'm not going to do anything that isn't 100% legal and the reason why is bc I don't want any association with it being done illegally whether it was for home use or otherwise. For my sons 8th birthday I bought edible hot wheels images and made cupcake toppers for him. Plus when you make something great you want to share it and post it and I just want to avoid that temptation. The truth about it is most companies will never find out but that doesn't make it ok. I think if the rules are followed for hobby bakers for home use not for resale there is no issue it just boils down to money and other things companies can't control.  When someone makes money off of something that isn't theirs it's an issue. Advertising with it is consider profiting from it as well. Another huge issue is quality control big companies can't control the quality of work by the many bakers hobby or professional so they are strict about who has permission to use them for resale. Also when people see a Disney cake for example they may think the cake is endorsed by Disney and say someone gets sick or they aren't pleased it's reflected back to the company. 

If we weren't a business and only baked for fun I would absolutely do them for my kids ONLY using the home use products as they are intended but for me it's a moral issue as well as a legal issue. I doubt one cake  will cause a lawsuit and if attention was ever brought to anyone who used to do them and doesn't now and can show they've done what they can to rectify the past use by no longer making them or using old photos it would certainly be a good reflection on the baker. 

@costumeczar  I don't worry about the zombie apocalypse but I worry about everything else enough to make up for it lol. So I'm right there with your friend. Waiting and anticipating for the worst to happen. I wouldn't say I live in total fear but I definitely have safety preparedness worked out for most all situations. 

-K8memphis Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 6:20pm
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just for clarity -- 

"i've done hundreds of character cakes and pictures icing drawings of all kinds of copyrighted items for pay" either in my own cake business or working for others because it was not a factor at that time -- it (cake deco) was all coming of age and it became a big deal bigger with time -- remember i've been at this professionally 40+ years --

i've never been a big photography person -- back when i started it was costly to do photos -- it took weeks to get things developed and since i was a lousy photographer i would be paying for the picture of the big white flash instead of my pretty cake -- so i didn't really get into it --

i retired from cakes for the first time when all the online stuff was just beginning -- the only reason i got into posting pictures online at all was because a sweet friend encouraged me to -- not so much my thing -- i do post a few here and there -- and because for all of those online years i did not have my own cake business (because i could not do it legally from my home and didn't want to move some where else etc.) all those pictures were fine but the copyright wooley boogers did create enough anxiety that i removed them then eventually shut down my site --

but still yet there are plenty of brick and mortar retail businesses that disregard the copyright thing and i hope they catch on before it bites them



Happyfood Posted 9 Dec 2015 , 11:29pm
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This site is not letting me post.  :(

costumeczar Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 1:09am
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@Happyfood  it wasn't letting me sign in this afternoon but it seems to be okay now.

Happyfood Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 1:12am
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I just came back to see if I would have any luck.  Interesting that my comment made it since it did not seem to go through any better than my original reply.  Wowsers.  I was getting some weird message on a blank screen.  Oh well now I can try to send my original reply.   

.....Maybe..... 

Happyfood Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 1:14am
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Error in exception handler or something like that.

Happyfood Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 1:19am
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K8memphis, you aren't kidding about the professional bakers sites.  I love to wander around and check out what sort of stuff is being done by them.   Since reading all of the threads on this subject, it amazes me to see how many don't seem to have any problem advertising their copyrighted creations.


Now you all have given me something to think about....  NOT the zombie apocalypse - just the legalities of copyrights.  :). 

I do have a facebook page.  I made one because friends and family wanted to see what I have been doing.  (My mom loves to share photos of my baking - she never did this with my kids!)   Since I am not a "real business" just a person with a huge sweet tooth, I went in and modified the description so it is pretty clear that I am not a professional baker.  I sure hope that will help to keep things clear.  

Now about the zombie apocalypse,  When I look at a group of people and they are all standing around looking down at their "smart" phones. I liken them all to a bunch of zombies so you could say that the apocalypse has already begun.  LOL! 


costumeczar Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 4:16am
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@Happyfood  the apocalypse has definitely started when you see that kind of thing. My friend has her whole escape plan laid out, she's really given it a lot of thought. She's calculated how long the zombies would take to rot in real-world conditions so she only has to stay hidden for that long, where she'll go to hide, etc etc. I've told her that she needs to get a hobby.

stephsweetreats Posted 10 Dec 2015 , 6:34pm
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So of course right after this post the other day I had a customer wanting me to do a cake shaped like the head of Bumble the Abominable snowman!  I explained the law to them, etc, gave them other options (including just buying a bumble toy to put on top). I then told them I could attempt to contact someone for permission, but it could take a long time, could be wrong person, may not respond, may want money, etc...so I did that and of course I didn't hear back so I checked back in with the customer to tell them that just like I thought would happen, I did not hear back for permission.  I then gave them the option again of using a toy.  I told them that unless they want to use a toy, I can't do anything else since replication would be involved and be illegal.  I told them I am a baker who strictly follows these laws.

Her response:  I totally understand.  Thank you for putting time into checking, but I think I'll pass on the cake.

In other words....I'll go find a baker who is okay with breaking the law.   Because she clearly still needs the cake, she just wants THAT one.  

Now I'm going to be so tempted to follow the baker close by who breaks the law with every cake and bakes from their home just to see if it pops up there.  But I will do my best to resist because I will be sooooo tempted to comment "how funny to see this.  I was asked to make this cake as well, but due to copyright laws I didn't.  No breaking the law over here :)"  But no I must be the bigger person right?! hahaha  I will resist the temptation.

costumeczar Posted 11 Dec 2015 , 12:36am
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That's so aggravating.

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