Monday, August 1, 2011

But I really want a 3-D *insert famous character here* cake!

Ah yes... not a week goes by where I don't get a request for an Elmo, Mickey Mouse, or some other character/logo cake, and I have to inform the customer that I cannot make the cake they describe.  I always offer an alternative, decorating in the colors of the character or party supplies containing the character.  Another alternative is setting up a scene for the character so that a toy can be used on the cake.

Sometimes the suggestion works and sometimes it doesn't.  So why can't cake decorators do these types of cakes?  Kara Buntin, owner of A Cake to Remember in Richmond, VA is an author, certified pastry chef, cake designer extraordinaire, and blogger explains why.

"Whenever anyone starts talking about pictures of their cakes being stolen, all the other decorators rally to their defense and start talking about burning the photo thief at the stake. But if you look at the websites of the people whose pictures were stolen, chances are you might see someone's copyrighted logos or characters on the cakes that they've made.

I do mainly wedding cakes, but when grooms ask for a groom's cake that has a sports team logo, a college mascot, or a favorite brand on it, I have to get permission to use it.

If you make cakes with cartoon characters on them, you have to get permission to use them.

If you make a cake with a logo from another business, you have to get permission to use it.

Now, chances are that nobody is going to come calling to tell you that you've violated their copyrights, so it's really up to you to decide how much risk you're willing to take. If you're charged with a copyright violation, though, and the company does decide to follow through and make an example of you, don't expect it to be fun.

There are a lot of anecdotes about "copyright hunters" who go to bakeries and craft shows to see if they can find examples of violations. Disney is notorious for this, because they protect their copyrights so closely. There was one case where Louis Vuitton told a Scotttish bakery to stop making purse cakes that had their logo on it, so people are paying attention.

I have licensing agreements with a number of college and professional sports teams that allow me to make cakes with their logos and mascots. The professional teams usually have restrictions about not using photos of the finished cakes on websites or in advertising, so there are things that you have to do beyond just getting permission. Call the legal or community relations departments for the team or school to ask them what you need to do to use their logos.

Some companies are very casual about the use of their brands as long as it’s for a fan, and the logo will be used the way that it actually looks. But once again, you need to call and check with the legal departments from each company to find out what their requirements are.

Other companies are extremely protective of their brands, and won’t give you permission at all. When I wrote to Nickelodeon to find out what their policy was, they said that they don’t license their characters.

Then there’s Disney, which is the big Kahuna of characters. They own all of their own characters, obviously, and they recently bought the Marvel comics characters as well. No, you can’t get their license. No, don’t bother asking. No, you probably can’t afford it. And yes, they will prosecute you if they feel like it.

Here’s the link to the Disney Licensing page. Notice that they don’t have any pricing for the cost of the license listed? I assume that means “don’t ask” even if you do meet the rest of the requirements. And yes, bakeries and baked goods are a category, so they’re not overlooking us."

Thanks Kara!!


  1. Thanks Kara!!. After reading so much about copyright infringement and the horror stories out there, I always feel uncomfortable when I see copyright cakes out there. And I'm not a business.

    Does anyone know if these rules apply to cakes for our own children?

  2. Kara can correct me if I am wrong, but from what I have been reading character cakes are fine for your own children, but you shouldn't use them to advertise your business.


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