I’m taken aback when I see something is extremely prevalent and totally illegal in our industry (and more so in the kids’ party industry). I’m talking about the use of licensed images and artwork for events and parties. Here’s the deal… if you are profiting from the use of any copyrighted images, artwork, or graphics (that you do not have a right or license to use) you are stealing from that artist. If you are a stationer or an event designer who is using images from films, cartoons, children’s books, television, trademarked logos, etc. you are doing so illegally. (Yes, cake designers too! Keep reading.)
I’m talking about using any of the following printed on invitations, menus, banners, bunting, hats, etc, etc, etc…
- Dr. Seuss characters
- Charlie Brown and Peanuts Gang characters
- Star Wars logos
- Hello Kitty and her friends
- Logos relating to luxury handbags (Louis Vuitton, etc) and other designer labels
- Logos relating to colleges and professional sports teams
- and… anything Disney (of course!)… pretty much anything that has a (c) or ™ or (r) after it!
Don’t even get me started on the craziness on Etsy and Pinterest in regards to completely illegal use of marks and artwork. OY!
What the Law Says…
Copyright and trademark laws are in place to protect artists from those that may want to profit from copying their work. (I’m pretty sure you’d want this protection for your business, right?)
Here is the law so that you can get all legal-y with me:
(1) Any person who shall, without the consent of the registrant—
(a) use in commerce any reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation of a registered mark in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive; or
(b) reproduce, counterfeit, copy, or colorably imitate a registered mark and apply such reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles or advertisements intended to be used in commerce upon or in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive, shall be liable in a civil action by the registrant for the remedies hereinafter provided.
What about “non-commercial” or personal use?
Here’s where people get confused and the lines get blurred… if you are hosting a party for your child and use licensed graphics and images… and you are NOT selling anything or profiting from this… you might be OK. The idea is that if you use the image or mark for personal use, you are not gaining any profit. (This does get really blurry tho because some companies do not condone personal use. Your best bet would be to email the artist and/or company and ask for permission.) The HUGE mistake that is made with the personal use of artwork is when this private party is published on a blog or website. NOW – the party has turned from personal to commercial. Who do you think is profiting? Maybe it’s you indirectly from marketing exposure? Maybe it’s the site owner from the sale of advertisements? Bottom line: if you are using artwork for your personal use, do NOT get it published.
Cake People too!
And, here is something interesting… cake design is guilty of this too! If you are a cake artist who is asked to do Sesame Street characters, you may want to rethink that. This is a really great post explaining the legality of artwork on cake design. The author of this article, Jason Kraft, makes a great point here:
“You may notice many, many examples of infringing cakes posted online by both individuals and businesses. This may be due to people being unaware of copyright law or simply not caring about it, but it does not mean that copyright law is not being enforced. This law exists to protect the investment of people and businesses who spend time and money creating original works of art, and if you create your own original work you would want to enjoy those same protections.”
Be Ethical. Be Honest. Be Legal.
So, what do you do if your client requests this of you? (This is especially hard when your competitor may have this blazoned on their website as something they offer.) One option is to legally license the artwork so that you are free to use it for this event. (Some artists may be more flexible with the use of their images depending on the scope of your work.)
If you are unable to license the artwork (or it is cost prohibitive), then you need to refrain from using it. The right thing to do is educate the client on why doing this is illegal and unethical. You will gain far more respect and credibility in the industry if you commit yourself to doing honest business.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you been in a situation where a client has asked this of you? Have you had success in licensing artwork the right way?