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How to avoid a bun fight over your original ideas

News   •   Feb 08, 2017 10:38 SGT

This is the photo tweeted by Duff Goldman, to show his cake against that of Donald Trump

There’s an old English saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but these days the question for Creators cooking up original ideas is also whether the proof is in the tweeting.

It might be, at least for those with celebrity status. Take the recent case involving a huge cake, Donald Trump and American pastry chef Duff Goldman.

Goldman is the star of several reality-cooking programs on the Food Network cable channel, including a series called “Ace of Cakes”, about his life running a custom cake shop in Baltimore.

When images of President Trump cutting into the nine-tier cake were broadcast on the night of his inauguration, Goldman could not help but notice the cake looked almost exactly like the one he had designed and made for the inauguration of Barack Obama four years ago.

That night he tweeted photos of the two cakes side by side.

Within days his tweet had been shared more than 130,000 times and gained more than 250,000 likes.

The tweet prompted Tiffany MacIsaac, owner of Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington, to acknowledge (via instagram) that her shop had baked the doughy doppelganger under strict orders to copy the cake Goldman made for Obama. She praised Goldman’s “masterpiece” and pledged the proceeds from the commission would be donated to charity.

The bakery would have preferred to make an original cake, she told The Washington Post, but the client was insistent: “They said nope, they want this exact cake.”

Trump’s cake highlights the dangers when appropriation of another’s work is done under pressure from a third party. In this case the copier has copped a pie in the face, while the copied has lapped up the cream, gaining publicity worth many times the value of the cake.

But what if the victim hadn’t already been a minor celebrity (with thousand of social media fans) and the client involved hadn’t been one of the world’s most recognisable personalities, a figure whose every action and utterance is newsworthy?

In that case it is more likely that there would have been no just deserts.As with many creative endeavours, those working in the food industry have limited options to protect their original ideas from being poached. There have been cases of bakers getting sued for copyright infringement, but only so far as they have used the images of trademarked characters such as Mickey Mouse. For example, in 2015 the Disney Corporation, which fiercely protects its ownership of characters such as Mickey and the world’s other most famous Donald (Donald Duck), took legal action against a cake maker for "unlicensed and counterfeit edible cake frosting sheets and related items” containing “unauthorised likenesses of animated or live-action characters or other logos".

For those of us lacking the deep pockets of a global media conglomerate, however, a legal remedy simply isn’t on the menu. Even if you do have the law on your side, enforcing a legal right is time-consuming and expensive. In most cases, it’s not a matter of law but ethics. You can’t trademark a recipe or a cake design. There is no tort for tortes.

So what to do? Social media is a double-edged sword (like the one Donald Trump used to cut his cake). You may be able to publicise the violation of your moral rights, but it is a blunt instrument extremely unlikely to preserve your creative rights being infringed in the first place. Indeed, whenever you publicly share your ideas and creations online, you increase the risk that someone, somewhere will copy them for their own benefit.

Prevention really is better than the cure. This is why PitchMark exists, to provide a safe and secure mechanism for you to register ownership of your original ideas before sharing them with others, and to communicate that official recognition of your moral rights when you do share them.

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