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Using Trademarked/Licensed Images on Cakes

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Here's the problem as I understand it, and I'd like to get some discussion on the topic. We have guests that want cakes with copyrighted/trademarked/licensed characters on them... i.e Lightning McQueen, Little Mermaid, Yo Gabba Gabba etc. From what I understand, we can not create these characters ourselves out of fondant or cake, but are limited to either buying plastic toys to put on top or using software from Bake Deco (or other companies). What about sculpted cakes? I see pictures from other bakeries that do that... are they risking lawsuits? Or am I being paranoid?

Does anybody license with Disney or sports teams? Anyone had experiences they'd like to share? Using those plastic toys or printable sheets takes all the fun out of cakes, so yeah... I don't know. Thing is, people WANT all their kids favorite characters ON the cake! What are your thoughts? And where is the line between using trademarked images as inspiration and infringement?

I look forward to hearing from my fellow cake decorators!

Stephen W.

Pastry Chef/Owner

The Sweet Life Bakery

Vineland, NJ

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I'm not going to get into the ethical side of should you or shouldn't you.

But if you do, it's all about whether you get caught; you run the risk of paying a fine or whatever the penalty is and whether you can afford to pay it. I don't know what the chances are of getting caught and being prosecuted; while the copyright infringement attorneys are busy, I can only guess they're looking at big fish and not little cake decorators or mom-and-pop bakeries. When Debbie Brown (in the UK) published popular children's character books, she has several disclaimers about having permission to recreate the characters in cake, and if you make these cakes they are for personal use only. So I guess if you were to put pictures of cakes you've done with licensed characters, you should show that they were "not for sale". But I'm not sure that's a lot of protection, especially if you have a whole portfolio of things like that and not a big family :wink:

If you do decide to replicate a character, you could try to make it resemble the popular character and leave off some feature or other so that it is not an exact replica. I know that years ago, Earlene Moore warned a friend of mine to remove her picture of a Tabasco bottle done in cake; evidently Earlene knew of someone who was caught and warned by the company to cease and desist.

I have no idea how many decorators who copy baseball caps or hockey bags, football helmets, etc with the logos of their favorite team are caught. But there are lot of places doing it!

Edited by JeanneCake (log)

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All I can say is that in 18 years of decorating, I've never seen the cake cops pull up to my shop and arrest me. Perhaps I'm "living on the edge" but I just don't worry about it that much. However, I do do what Jeanne said, and that is, I leave off a small portion of what makes the character what it is. For instance, if I do Spiderman, I leave off the spider logo on the front of his costume.

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