A lot of professional cake artists and bakers get their start working from home—they usually start out small and hope to grow their customer base first before they open a full-time store. Unfortunately, early missteps along the way can lead to big legal problems, especially when it comes to character cakes and copyright laws. If you're starting your own cake baking business, this is what you need to know about those cute Disney and Pixar cake pans (among others)—before you use them.
What's the big issue with character cakes?
Even if you just start out selling your cakes to friends and family, the popularity of character cakes based on everything from the latest superhero movie to the newest video game release means that you're bound to run into this problem soon. Someone will want a cake with well-recognized characters—whether it's one of the Disney princesses or a Snorlax from Pokemon Go. You can probably stop at a number of stores in your area and pick up cake pans that make it easy to produce well-done likenesses of Angry Birds, Dora The Explorer, and Hello Kitty, among other designs.
Most people assume that since the pans are sold, it must be legal to use them—and it is, but only up to a point. The problem is that those images are all protected by copyright laws, which restricts when and how those character pans can be used. Too many bakers new to the professional business don't realize that.
What are the rules on how character pans can be used?
The First Sale Doctrine and the Fair Use Doctrine control what you can do with character pans. The First Sale Doctrine gives the copyright owner (or a licensed distributor) the right to make a character cake pan and sell it the private consumer. The consumer also buys the right to use it to make as many cakes as he or she wants from the pan. That's part of the Fair Use Doctrine. He or she can even resell the cake pan down the line—perhaps at a yard sale—without violating any copyright laws.
However, what the consumer does not purchase is the right to sell reproductions or derivative works made with the pan. In other words, it's fair to expect to use the pan to make cakes for yourself and even friends and family—but the second that you start charging money for your work, you move beyond the "fair use" of the cake pan and into a copyright infringement.
What can you do about the problem?
Generally speaking, you have two basic choices: don't sell character cakes or buy the rights to a licensed cake design for your most popular designs. Since that can be costly, you could also try just buying licensed cake figures in a wide array of characters that your customers like and then decorate around them instead of using character pans.
Whatever option you choose, consider contacting an attorney at a law office such as the Joseph E Mueth Law Office who handles intellectual property laws in order to firm up your business policies and identify areas where you might be inadvertently stealing someone else's work and putting your entire business in jeopardy.
I am a real estate attorney, and I have been helping clients buy and sell property for many years. Some clients do not realize their legal obligations and options when it comes to purchasing or selling a house or land. I hope that this blog will be a way for people to get information about legal issues in real estate and what they need to know when doing business. Buying and selling property can be complicated, and all parties involved have legal obligations. Know what is expected of you, and you will be able to get the best out of your real estate transactions.