Can I Use Trademarked Themes for my Sleepover Teepee Parties?

Are you an owner of a sleepover business? If so, you will be familiar with people asking you to create Fortnite, Tik Tok, Harry Potter, Barbie and other popular themed parties.

However these popular themes are branded, meaning they are subject to strict copyright legislation. For you, this means they are legally protected from being copied and making money from them.

Now before I continue, I want to make a disclaimer that makes it clear that I am a blogger, not a lawyer. My intention is to throw some ideas out there on how to avoid getting into hot water, and to showcase some good practice from real sleepover parties in your industry. Hopefully I will inspire you to get creative with your own set ups so that you don’t miss out on all of the copyright requests you have to turn down! If you are still unsure, I would suggest doing some further research on copyright legislation and retain legal advice. 

The main thing to remember when a customer asks for a branded theme; is do not breach copyright legislation no matter what they say.

If you get a message from a customer saying ‘…but so and so is offering Harry Potter or Fortnite’ here is your chance to shine. Use this as an opportunity to explain the legalities behind copyright and tell them you are safe and legal in all aspects of your business. Let your customer know that you work with the most precious people around; their children! And it is important to you that they entrust you as a business to be safe and legal. Whether this is in relation to meeting the safety regulations of the tents themselves, or the accessories you include, to the correct health and safety procedures when supplying food or electrical items. Copyright compliance comes into this same category as you can highlight the fact that you are not breaking the law.

So now that your customers know the legalities, you will need to find a way to avoid copyright infringement. You can do this in two ways; either a) create your own original work or b) get permission to use the copyrighted work.

We are going to focus on the first; which is creating your own original work in order for you to build your own brand and explore your own unique style. It can be done with a little imagination!

Frozen

Image: The Glitzy Balloon Company

The Walt Disney Company would have trademarked ‘Frozen’ and would hold a number of copyrights that restrict use of the logo, font, names and images of its characters, songs and well known phrases such as ‘let it go’ and ‘do you want to build a snowman?’

That doesn’t stop you from creating your own wintery palette. I doubt that Disney would object to the use of snow flakes, snow covered trees and using an ice blue and silver colour scheme at your party. My Little Tea Party in conjunction with The Glitzy Balloon Company created a stunning winter wonderland complete with luxe picnic table and teepee tent.

The large lace teepee tent was decorated with a garland of pastel and chrome balloons as well as frost covered leaves and flowers giving it a luxurious finish.

The low level picnic table featured a lace table runner with varying sized white, silver and glittery trees creating a miniature snow forest.

I can’t see any merchandise… wouldn’t you agree that this is a very classy set up? It gives a very subtle nod to the animation with the clever use of colour palette and decorations, yet does not overstep the copyright boundary. The party is original and quite simply stunning!

What is copyright?

Lets look at this quickly so we are all on the same page. Generally, copyright protects creative or intellectual work of say an author for things such as music, art and photography. Trademark protects the branding by way of words, logos, phrases, and colours. Protection is put in place to stop people from copying it.

What oversteps a copyright boundary?

In this industry, we often see people using trademarked themes, mostly by using official merchandise in their set ups. This is actually illegal.

In my opinion (and I don’t mean to cause offence by saying this, it is just a personal preference) but when I see a sleepover creation covered with official merchandise props I think it looks tacky. It doesn’t show off your creativity skills or offer the customer something different from what they could purchase themselves from a store!

What you are doing is creating an experience, transporting the child into your theme. In this business – isn’t creativity what it’s all about? Isn’t that why you feel that little buzz when you’re working on your new theme? Isn’t this your perfect opportunity to be unique; and stand out from your competitor!?

You want your customer to have that wow factor that you get from your original creations.

So lets go back to businesses using official merchandise in their sleepover set ups. You should be aware that when you purchase a product bound by copyright (in a shop or online) you are purchasing it for personal use. This means you can put it in your child’s bedroom or even use at your own child’s party, but you are not allowed to make money from it, so in your case your are not allowed to hire it out with your sleepover set ups. This is breaching copyright legislation.

Official merchandise for you guys can include anything from bedding, throws, bunting, cushions, toys, teddies, to any other accessories you can think of that has been trademarked with a recognisable brand.

To overcome this barrier you should focus more on the canvas / the backdrop of your sleepover set ups.

You can do this with the use of colour, shapes and / or patterns. I recommend you focus on your palette first, then work on styling after by adding one or two imaginative props. You don’t need to go overboard with your props. Keep it simple to help you stay away from it becoming instantly recognisable to a specific brand. If you create a theme that is too specific to a popular brand it can be argued that you are copying. It may confuse members of the public who could think you have a direct affiliation with the brand. Remember you want your work to be original.

You also have an alternative option that I should point out to you. You can create a backdrop for the sleepover without any props and let your customer style it with their own. You can allow your customer to add official merchandise in this situation. This would not breach copyright as the official merchandise included in the set up would be for personal use. You will need to be clear when photographs are tagged or shared on your website or social media that you highlight that the merchandise belongs to the customer.

Toy Story

As you can see from these images, BowBeez Event Company created a perfect canvas for a row of their white a-frame tents by using colour and patterns.

They used bold primary colours of red, yellow, green and blue for the bedding, cushions, bunting and balloons which could link to the red, yellow and blue in the ‘Toy Story’ logo but this isn’t specific enough to overstep copyright infringement. These colours are used for many other kids type of brands such as Lego and Sonic for instance, so it can be argued that the colours aren’t a direct affiliation to the brand.

Image: BowBeez Events Company / Facebook

They stayed away from trademarked font, toys (which would have been an obvious choice but thankfully they avoided) and famous phrases such as ‘to infinity and beyond!’

Character images and names would also be trademarked. Interestingly, the toys featured in the movie that were real toys before Pixar used them remain property of the original toy companies; even Pixar would have had to ask permission to use them! The toys that were invented for the movie, like Woody for example, would be trademarked property of Disney / Pixar.

Image: BowBeez Events Company / Facebook

The sleepover set up included a balloon garland with a couple of the balloons featuring a cloudy sky print similar to the wallpaper featured in Andy’s bedroom in the movie. Also, cow print was used in the cushions, tablecloth and bunting similar to the waistcoat worn by Woody, one of the main characters from the animation.

These are very clever subtle nods to the movie, but I don’t think they are specific enough for a case of direct affiliation to the movie as these prints could be linked to many other products. I’m pretty sure you could purchase cloudy sky print before the movie came out, and cows… well!? I’m not sure how you could own the rights to that print? This can become a grey area, so by just keeping to these two subtle nods was a good decision in my opinion. If you was to add any other specific accessories it could become too instantly recognisable.

When advertising their set up on social media the company highlighted the fact that the balloons and Toy Story decorations were the families own which is good practice.

Pokémon

BowBeez Event Company created another similar set up by again, focusing on the canvas for a a different animation. They created the canvas by developing their colour palette and patterns, with the ‘Pokémon’ toys and cushion being the families own.

Hopefully you can start to see how your own unique style with your set ups will help a customer recognise your own brand.

Image: BowBeez Events Company / Facebook

I appreciate that it can get a little tricky for you trying to work out what you can and cannot use if it is not official merchandise. We all know what branded products look like so this is easy to identify, but its the products you buy from eBay, Etsy etc. By purchasing unbranded products in your setups you still need to ask yourself ‘are you overstepping copyright?’

Please be mindful when purchasing items from Etsy and other similar marketplaces. Their products are usually beautiful and very well made products; however it could cause you issues further down the line when you find you may be breaching copyright. An expensive lesson to learn!

Lets say a customer asks for a ‘Harry Potter’ themed sleepover. Harry Potter is a heavily trademarked identity, with lots of words and phrases protected, as well as the style of font, logo, character images and names etc.

So as you create your own wizard theme, be careful in terms of colours and props as too many specific links may be viewed as copying a brand and making money whilst doing so. For instance, you may decide not to use official merchandise which is great. However you may decide that you want to style your set up with the four house colours with similar school crest logos, round glasses similar to Harry’s, a lightning bolt, a wizard hat, and you may want to offer butter beer and chocolate frogs as refreshments.

All of these unbranded props do not necessarily link to Harry Potter in their own right, and Warner Brothers Entertainment wouldn’t own copyright to all round shaped glasses for instance. However, putting all of these elements together in one set up clearly would be a direct affiliation to the Harry Potter brand and it could be argued that there is a copyright infringement.

My suggestion for a Harry Potter inspired theme would be to simplify it with one or two very subtle nods. You could stay away from the recognisable house colours and go with a classy monochrome colour palette (which has no colour affiliation to the Harry Potter brand). Then style with some general spell books, some basic test tube beakers and a widely used wizard hat (hopefully a completely different style to the sorting hat). My idea would help you create the scene of a wizard school for your set up – a subtle nod to Hogwarts. It’s non-specific as there’s no colour affiliation, no direct link with characters and nothing trademarked in terms of words and products yet fans would appreciate the subtlety.

Image: My Little Tea Party / Instagram

Here are some gorgeous Harry Potter inspired props by My Little Tea Party. They always do a wonderful job with styling their events, so I wanted to include this as they wow me every time. These images are very classy; and I hope they will help me show you how you can remove just a couple of props to help you create a perfect generic wizard school theme. My suggestion (and not criticism as I absolutely adore their work!) would be to remove the round glasses, 9 3/4 mini sign and change the wording on the framed quote and there you have some stylish, well placed props.

Can you make your own accessories with branded fabric?

The same copyright legislation applies when you purchase official fabric. You would not be allowed to create your own bedding, bunting, cushions or any other decorations for your set ups as this would mean you bought it for commercial use. Just like other products you purchase, fabric does not have a commercial licence, only a personal one. So you can create items for personal use in your home or for your own party. Using them to make money means you would be breaking trademark laws.

Why can you include branded balloons but not branded merchandise?

Lets tip the scale; what if you’re concerned that your theme is too generic that you are worried your customer just wouldn’t get it. You can consider incorporating a branded balloon into your set up, as balloons are already given a commercial licence. This means that the official balloons, ones from trusted sources of course, can be used within your sleepover party! I know this brings up all sorts of questions for you now, but the easiest way of getting your head around it is to treat purchasing official balloons (commercial licence) and purchasing decorations and accessories (personal use) as completely separate.

When you buy a themed balloon from a reputable wholesaler, you also buy the license to sell the balloon on therefore you wont infringe copyright rules if you include it in your sleepover set up. However, if someone designs a balloon that isn’t on the UK market and they use an image from the Internet to modify the balloon then this then becomes copyrighted and the original copyright rules apply once again. Anything under copyright can only be used for personal and not for financial gain.

The Greatest Showman

Little Lavvu Events and Glitz & Gigglez successfully brought together a few different elements without overstepping copyright boundaries. They created a circus theme set up, inspired by ‘The Greatest Showman’.

Image: Sam Faiers / Instagram

They used red and white striped canopies creating a traditional circus theme backdrop, decorated with animal head props and acrobatic hoops to link to the films storyline.

The stunning balloon garland sets off the theme perfectly and the drip style cake looks delicious. The circus theme is carried through from the cake toppers to the admission tickets and gold glittery ring master hats.

No official merchandise was used, and the props were not specific enough to affiliate with the movie so copyright was not infringed. They are not copying a brand, they’ve put their own spin on a theme and transported the children into their very own circus… its really paid off!

Disney Princess

If you want to base your set up on a well known brand but create a completely generic theme then Dreamy Play Days shows here how it can be done. They created a ‘Disney Princess’ themed sleepover perfectly by using subtle pink and glittery gold tones. The Walt Disney Company have trademarked each of their individual Disney Princesses and of course this would be a firm favourite with little girls, but this sleepover is instantly recognisable yet generic at the same time. A job well done!

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Instagram

If something is instantly recognisable as a particular brand then it could be argued that you are profiting from intellectual property so I appreciate this is full of grey areas as it is a subjective matter.

Dreamy Play Days stay away from copyrighted images, font and phrases and creating a beautiful colour palette which has no direct colour affiliation to any of the individual Disney Princesses.

My Little Tea Party also created a non-specific pink and gold themed Princess tea party, and again doesn’t break any copyright legislation.

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Instagram

The intricate details on the table settings are simply gorgeous and are instantly recognisable as a Princess theme. But in both examples we see a pink and gold colour palette which does not relate to a specific Disney princess. Princess Jasmine is turquoise, Princess Tiana is green and Princess Aurora is blue and pink. I can’t think of one Disney Princess that I would instantly affiliate with pink and glittery gold. The beautiful props are also non-specific as carriages, crowns and dainty shoes can all relate to real life Royal Princesses not just Disney! Both examples show clever use of accessories and colours and how they’ve put their own personal twist on a recognisable brand.

If your customer asks you to create a Princess Jasmine theme for example, you could always put your own twist by creating an ‘Arabian Nights’ theme. So you are focusing more on setting a scene… think golds, bronze, deep pinks and purples, with jewel inspired props, plush rugs, cushions and one subtle nod – a magic lamp! No turquoise in sight, no direct affiliation to the Princess Jasmine character but a beautiful setting for the child to be transported to Agrabah. You could create an under the sea scene for Princess Ariel – get your thinking caps on and create stunning set ups!

Superheroes

There are so many superheroes, and the same applies with superheroes as it does with Disney Princesses; they would all be trademarked. From their character image, name, logo and colours.

This set up incorporated all of the bold primary colours making it impossible to distinguish one particular branded superhero. The balloon garland backdrop by The Glitzy Balloon Company focused on a city scene to give a super cool focus point to the party.

Courtneys Creations & Events created a set up using a retro comic style print with ‘zap!’, ‘pow!’ and ‘bang!’ terms used for décor. I believe that these designs are not associated to a particular brand but are instantly recognisable as a superhero comic style so it works well by transporting the child into their very own superhero scene. The comic style was used throughout their decorations – from their a-frame canopies, to the table cloth, party bags and cake toppers.

I appreciate clever little details so of course I absolutely loved the old style telephone booth which displayed the cupcakes. A clever (very subtle) nod to Superman. Wow!

I would remove the superhero poster in the centre of the dessert table as it appears to be official merchandise. I would also remove the capes and the cake toppers which although look homemade, have recognisable superhero logos on them. Although they are not official merchandise it can be argued that they copy recognisable brands.

The customer may have brought the poster, capes and cake toppers themselves and if that is the case, then as it would be used for personal use it would not breach copyright legislation. A wonderful creative set up that I absolutely love!

Winnie the Pooh

Dreamy Play Days are great at putting their own twist on well know themes. Look at this gorgeous woodland theme, loosely based on the honey-loving ‘Winnie the Pooh’. It would have been easy to use character or logo colours (yellow and red) but instead they created a palette of different tones of yellows and browns and focused more on a woodland backdrop. It helps you recognise the famous bear living in the woods yet it doesn’t breach legislation as there is no direct colour or product affiliation.

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Instagram

For instance, the floral brown ditsy fabric for the bunting and bedding has no specific link to the animation, and neither does the log slices and yellow flowers. They complement the classy theme but have no trademark breaches. When put together they create a beautiful, outdoorsy, woodland scene. I think this has to be one of my favourites! Simple yet stunning!

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Instagram

A wooden honey drizzler stick on the breakfast table is probably the biggest nod to the Winnie the Pooh character, however it is honey that is frequently mentioned in the books and animations and not a drizzle stick so a very clever way of using props, colours and accessories to ignite a child’s imagination. The teddy bear merchandise are probably the families own. If not then these would need to be removed and you’re looking at a perfectly compliant set up.

Minecraft

‘Fortnite’ and ‘Minecraft’ are very popular video game theme requests but I would recommend staying away completely from specific games and instead, create a general gaming theme. You will reach a wider audience and stay within copyright legislation.

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Facebook

Dreamy Play Days created a general gaming theme by including non-specific gamer accessories, and although they haven’t marketed it as ‘Minecraft’ – it is green and black so could easily pass for a Minecraft gamer party. You could simply change the colours to blue and purple for a more Fortnite inspired theme. There’s no copyright infringements here as it is completely their own design with no character links, instantly recognisable props or phrases used to cause any issues.

Image: Dreamy Play Days / Facebook

A company can receive large fines or be forced to shut down by infringing copyright rules. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your business is too small as you could face legal action no matter what size your business is.

It takes a lot of skill creating your own set ups and if it was easy then everybody would be doing it. Just be imaginative, think outside the box and don’t be afraid to move away from brand colours and use your own colour palette to really make it your own! Have one or two subtle nods to your chosen theme whether you make use of the decorations, colours or accessories try to incorporate non-specific items too.

If I was a customer, (besides safety) I would personally choose originality, creativity and style.

I hope this post has helped somewhat, and feel free to share with any of your customers who question you on why you are not allowed to create a Harry Potter, LOL doll or any other copyrighted theme. It may help them understand that you aren’t just being awkward.

Before I finish… check out another of my posts for a bit of inspo – a list of celebrity parents who have hosted teepee parties for their children: ‘Kids Sleepover Teepee Parties Celebs Can’t Get Enough Of’

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