Colin the caterpillar vs Cuthbert the caterpillar (or copy caking and should you care about it?)
You would have had to be living under a rock to escape the recent controversy, splashed all over social media, about Marks and Spencer filing suit against Aldi for trademark infringement. Or maybe that’s just me, because I feel like I was tagged in every post and sent every meme and was constantly updated on the saga. And rightly so because this is an issue that affects all cake designers and is constantly under discussion in any professional baking group you may join. Is it ok to copy someone else’s cake?
Now, while this isn’t exactly the crux of Marks and spencer’s argument, (they have actual trademark features of their design which should prevent it from being replicated so exactly, which most independent cake designers do not) it hit straight to the heart of the moral issue. Is it ok to take someone else work, that they have spent time and money and energy creating and just copy it?
When I was starting out in cake making I absolutely did this. It never occurred to me it would be a moral issue. A customer would ask me to replicate a cake and I did it. Honestly in the beginning I was so overwhelmed with getting my recipes right and working on my presentation skills that it was a huge relief not to have to think about design as well. Not only did I copy other cake makers' cakes exactly, but I gave no thought to copyright held by the corporations like Disney, Peppa Pig or Football clubs. Even when I began to be aware of copyright law my first thought honestly was screw them!!! Hadn’t they made enough money? Didn’t I deserve to make mine?
But actually the more I thought about it the more strongly I began to believe that it wasn’t about the evils of Disney. Which are many. But about the five people sat in a room drawing endless sketches of what Cinderella was going to look like, before finally getting one approved. And when I was copying another cake designer's work it was even more personal than that.
There is an etiquette in the cake design world that goes like this. If a customer would like you to copy someone else’s cake and you are fine with that, then just ask the original designer. Most people are accessible through Instagram, or Facebook or their website. If you ask and you don’t hear anything then at least tag them as the inspiration when you post the cake online. It’s easy and it's just a nice thing to do.
What I really do object to however is when this happens at a local level. If a cake designer in Melbourne is asked to recreate one of my designs honestly I couldn’t be more proud. Feeling that someone likes my work enough to recreate it on the other side of the world would only bring me joy. Not everyone feels like that, but I do. But what would upset me is if someone who could have asked me directly to make my design again, asks someone else.
To the best of my knowledge this has never happened to me. I’ve worked hard to form a customer base who comes to me because I do what I do. But maybe it does. London is a massive place and I have no idea if there are 27 other cake designers in my borough or 3. But I do see it happening to my friends. In small towns. Who have worked hard to find their USP and distinctive style and priced their work accordingly. Only for another cake maker to pop up in their village and try and do exactly the same thing, worse, for less money.
Is it legal? Sure. Is it right?
Perhaps that’s a more nuanced answer.
I will be keeping a close eye of the Marks and Spencer vs Aldi case. In the meantime I’d love to know what you think about copy caking!