A quick flick through Facebook looking for balloons and it is doesn’t take long to stumble across countless acts of copyright theft! Yes, I did say theft… because ultimately when you use another person’s work for your own commercial gain that’s exactly what it is! It is an industry-wide issue and hands-up it is something I have been guilty of before in my business! I saw so many others doing it across the entire industry I assumed it must be okay… but having looked further into what you can and can’t do I am here to tell you it’s really not and here is why!
One of the biggest myths in our industry is that as a small business, many of which are operating from home, you don’t need to worry too much… after all the majority of businesses only have a few thousand followers on social media, many of which are simply local customers so how will anyone find out you are breaking the law? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there are numerous ways your business can end up being investigated!
A trading standards officer stumbles across your online shop, a disgruntled customer decides to report you. Your competitor dobs you in. Your neighbours get fed up with customers collecting and parking in front of their house every weekend. Corporate investigators doing a search find your balloons (and yes these investigators do exist – Disney has whole teams scouring social media and the internet!).
Another industry myth is that if caught you will get a cease and desist letter and then most business owners think at that point they will simply stop! Whilst cease and desist letters are commonplace in copyright infringements there is no due process that requires this to be done initially and they can and do often simply decide to prosecute straight away. The consequences to your business (and personal life) can be big if you are found to be flouting the law!
I can’t tell you how many industry myths there are to try and justify the wrongdoings of many in the industry. As a balloon business owner, you may hear things like; hand-crafted items don’t count, if it’s not available as a balloon already it’s fine, we are too small for them to even worry about, everyone else is doing it and they can’t take all of us down, non-profit companies don’t worry about copyright, and so it goes on. Let me be upfront and tell you none of these things will stand up in court should a lawsuit come knocking on your door… Neither will “I didn’t know!” Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law. It’s your responsibility to understand the laws your business trades within…
Small home-based businesses do get prosecuted!
If you don’t believe me check out this article where a lady from Sutton, making and selling bows from counterfeit ribbon found herself in court resulting in a criminal record and a huge £4100 fine! Sutton trading standards made several test purchases from her online shop posing as a customer before raiding her home address and seizing her products and computer. The lady was found guilty of 10 offences under The Trade Marks Act 1994, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and The Fraud Act 2006 for the sale and possession of counterfeit goods, engaging in unfair commercial practices, and carrying on a business in a fraudulent manner.
In the balloon world, specifically, Disney has also issued many cease and desist letters to several balloon artists in Orlando in the past – most probably due to their close proximity to Disney world but it shows they are aware of our industry. Many, many balloon artists have had their Facebook pages or other social media accounts shut overnight due to trademark and copyright infringements, and found themselves having to start from scratch as years worth of work in building their business just vanished in a split second…
So what mistakes could you be making in your business related to copyright?
Copyright law is the body of laws that give authors exclusive rights to their creations for a limited time.
Todd Neufeld. (Twistin’ Todd)
What should you do?
This here lies the dilemma… Your competitors are doing it… Half the industry seems to be doing it! At the beginning of this article I was upfront and honest and put my hands up to say I like so many other business owners in the industry have been guilty of copyright infringement in my business… but what should you do? Well, I am not here to tell you what to do in your business… merely to educate you and let you make your own decisions.
I should also be clear that I do not have any training in the formalities of copyright or trademark law. This article is simply provided for educational and informational purposes based on the research I have done on the subject. You use this internet site at your own risk and I always recommend seeking legal advice in your business from persons qualified to provide it.
What I would say though, is put yourself in the shoes of the person you are stealing from. Just say you come up with a design or product tomorrow, you spend hours and lots of money refining it, for it to become so popular it takes the world by storm. The revenue from that idea could change your life and your family’s life. How would you then feel if every balloon artist, in every town, in the country stole your idea and began flogging it cheaper than you could! I am guessing frustrated wouldn’t cover it in the slightest – they didn’t just steal your idea but they stole your dream life too! Just because you don’t enter the home of the person who owns something, pick it up and walk out with it does not mean you aren’t stealing… Equally just because the person you are stealing from is a business doesn’t change the fact it is theft…
You also need to consider the risks and whether your business and your family’s lifestyle could cope if the next knock on the door was an expensive lawsuit…
I hope you found this article useful, I know for some people it may not be information that brings joy to their ears, it may not even make me very popular for raising this industry-wide issue… My mission is to help you grow a profitable and sustainable business so you can get paid to do what you love every single day for many years to come! In doing so sometimes I have to discuss difficult subjects with you, so you can do what you need to do to protect your business and grow…
Until next time… Stay amazing!
Hi there! It’s so great to have you here! Having grown my own balloons and venue decor business I really want to help you grow a profitable and successful business too! I can’t wait to see where your journey takes us! Make sure you come to join us in the FREE community and accelerate the growth of your business – The Quick and Easy Way!
Until next time… Stay Amazing!