Saturday, November 27, 2010

Photo Theft vs Design Copying

I'd like to get some clarification on this topic. How do you know when you are or are not allowed to copy a cake design? For example there are a ton of different decoraters doing elmo & cookie monster cupcakes all using the same technique but obviously someone came up with the idea, so when is it stealing? I recently copied the caterpillar cupcake because a client asked for it. I first went online & looked up a picture & found one in google images. Which I copied. Only later did I find out that the orginal cake decorater (in canada i believe) actually had a go at the decorater that I copied for not crediting her work. Now I feel guilty for also not crediting her, but it was by pure chance that I even know that she created it & really how do I know she did not also copy it? Personally the cakes that I put up pictures of I expect to be copied. I don't however expect that people use my photo as their work (do it yourself). Can I get people's view points on this, as I am only new to the industry & find this part of it very confusing & intimadating? Thanks SJ

This was a comment on a post below, and SJ brings up a common question... what about reproducing a photo?

Some cake artists are ok with it, and expect it.  Some are not.  The reality of this business is that it will happen, and it is not illegal.  We all have clients who bring us photos they would like reproduced.

My only suggestion is that you tell them it will be YOUR version of that design, and that you credit the original design if you know it.  If you don't know the source, then at least indicate that it was inspired by a photo supplied by the client.

This site is not about cake decorators who reproduce designs, but those who actually take photos from other artists and claim (or imply) that it is their own work!

As for the cakes with Elmo or other characters, that is a WHOLE other issue.  Those characters are protected under Licencing and Copyright laws.  I will eventually post my thoughts and research about that topic, but not today.


  1. i have sent photos of cakes that were not mine to ppl i know who wanted ideas of cakes. i only sent ideas of options i knew i could do- but had not the examples myself to show- and was very clear from the very first that the photos being sent-were NOT MY WORK nor was i claiming any credit to them in anyway except for ideas that the friends may have been looking for.
    Gail Fetch Hengen (Facebook name)

  2. I think many of us do that. None of us will have created every design there is, and I see nothing wrong with being inspired by other cake designers!

    The difference is those who actually post photos of someone else's cakes on their site, Facebook page or elsewhere on-line that implies that THEY created that cake.

  3. This is a pretty long one... sorry...

    From years of copyright work, I'm pretty well versed in copyright issues. If you create any new work, it is your copyright, and protected under the law. You don't need to file a copyright or even use © symbol, though its good practice to use it when appropriate. So, if anyone recreates a cake they have seen anywhere, that is technically copyright infringement and the owner is at right to pursue this legally.

    As an example, would you think you could copy a novel and put your name to it in a commercial market? Its the same thing.

    That said, most of the very established cake decorators I know, on some level, expect their work to be copied, and assume that each hand will ultimately create a different product. While the owner of the copyright does have the right to enforce it, its very difficult and often not financially viable to do so. Though I have found a sternly worded letter from an attorney works wonders. Taking inspiration from the cake, or a technique or detail would not be copying the work in its entirety so that would generally not be considered an infringement.

    Using photographs of cake photos is another matter. The designer owns the copyright on the design, and the photographer owns the photo, so there are two entities you're infringing upon in that situation.

    And finally, yes, any character cakes, chanel, lv, or any other designer purses, shoes, logos etc are the copyrighted property of their owner and recreating them in cake without prior approval is a violation of their copyright. Some don't care at all, and some like Chanel and Disney have teams of lawyers doing nothing but searching for violations to protect their copyright. See that's the thing... if you don't actively pursue and protect your copyright, you can actually lose your right to it, so some are very vigilant.

    Its my personal policy not to copy other's work, since I don't like it when mine is copied. Many can recreate a work, but what continues to keep us viable in a crowded marketplace is coming up with the innovative design. In my mind though, inspiration is another thing, and everyone is inspired from everywhere, and available to us all.

    Recipes are a good example for how this could be handled. A recipe can not be copyrighted. No one can own it. But the guideline is that to make it your own, and publish it as such, you'd have to change at least 2 material things and 1-2 simpler ones. You can also republish it as you find it, but the guidance would be to rewrite the description in your own words and to credit the original source as "adapted from..." I think this is a good guideline for cakes... If you use someone else's work you should either change it enough to make it your own, or credit the person who created it. My guess is that this good will is generally enough to satisfy most cake designers.

  4. There is a big name in this business who has a beautiful cake on his website. I've always liked it. Then, going through a cake book by another big name in the biz, guess what -- a nearly idenical cake!! Oh sure, there were slight variations, but clearly Mr. Website had taken this idea from Mr. Book. Now both are awesome sugar artists and such and no credit was given to Mr. Book, but in talking with Mr. Website once upon a time, he told me "there are books you can learn this stuff from..." No kidding! Evidently that's where he learned that technique from. I don't know there's any strife between them necessarily but I did find it interesting in light of the fact that both Mr. Book and Mr Website are both highly accomplished sugar artists and big names in the biz. So take it for what it's worth...