Are you an owner of a sleepover business? Are you familiar with customers asking you for popular themes such as Fortnite, Tik Tok, Harry Potter, Barbie and others?
Your customers may not know – but these popular themes are protected by strict copyright legislation. For you as the owner, this means you are not allowed to copy or make money from the brand without permission.
Before I continue, I want to make a disclaimer making it clear that I am a blogger, not a lawyer. My intention is to throw some ideas out there on how to avoid breaking copyright rules. I also want to showcase some good practice from real sleepover parties in the industry who got it right.
Hopefully I will inspire you to get creative with your own set ups so that you don’t miss out on all the copyright requests you have to turn down! If you are still confused after reading this, I would suggest doing some further research on copyright legislation and retain legal advice.
The main thing to remember when a customer sends you their request; is do not breach copyright legislation no matter what they tell you.
They may tell you that company A will do it for them and company B will also do it for them at a cheaper rate. Unfortunately there will always be businesses who break the law but that doesn’t mean you should do it too. I think this is an opportunity for you to shine!
This is where you can 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!
Tell them how important it is to you, that your customers trust you as a safe and legal business. Whether its meeting the safety regulations of the tents and canopies, or whether its making sure your electrical items are correctly tested, or whether its meeting Covid-19 guidelines.
Copyright compliance applies here too. You can highlight the fact that you are not breaking the law. Use this checklist to ensure you have everything covered:
So now that your customer is informed on the legalities, you now need to find a way to avoid copyright infringement. You can do this in two ways:
a) create your own original work
b) get permission to use the copyrighted work
We are going to focus on the first; which is to create your own original work, build your own brand and explore your own style. It can be done with a little imagination!
The Walt Disney Company have trademarked Frozen and 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 set up. I doubt Disney would object to the use of snow flakes, snow covered trees and using an ice blue and silver colour palette at your party. Check out the images to see My Little Tea Party in conjunction with The Glitzy Balloon Company a stunning winter wonderland complete with luxe picnic table and teepee tent.
The large lace teepee tent is 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 has a lace table runner decorated with different size white, silver and glittery trees creating a miniature snow forest.
Such a classy set up! It gives a subtle nod to the Frozen animation as you are transported into the story through clever use of colour and decoration. Yet it doesn’t overstep the copyright boundary as there is nothing specific enough to point towards the characters or the logo for example.
Lets look at this quickly so we are all on the same page. Generally, copyright protects creative or intellectual work (such as music, art and photography). Trademark protects the branding (such as words, phrases, logos and colours). Protection is put in place to stop you from copying it.
In the sleepover party industry you will often see businesses breaching copyright by naming their sleepover theme the name of a brand instead of thinking of their own idea. They will also use a brand logo (think Tik Tok) and place it on cushions, bunting and other accessories. They will also use official merchandise such as bedding, cushions and plush toys. 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 I think a party littered with official merchandise for decorations and props look messy! It doesn’t look like a well designed backdrop and doesn’t show off creativity.
In this business – isn’t creativity what it’s all about? Isn’t that why you feel that buzz of excitement when you’re designing a new theme? Can you use it as an opportunity to be unique and stand out from your competitor!?
So lets go back a step to what I mentioned earlier – official merchandise. You should be aware that when you purchase a product bound by copyright you are purchasing it for personal use. This means you can put a Cinderella duvet on your child’s bed or dress your child in a Superman cape or use a Peter Rabbit themed sign at your own child’s party – as you are using it for personal use. It’s for your own use and you aren’t making money from it.
As an owner of a sleepover business you are not allowed to hire out copyrighted items with your set ups because it would mean you are using the products for commercial use. So that means the Cinderella duvet cannot be used on the beds, the Superman cape cannot be used as décor and the Peter Rabbit welcome sign cannot be displayed if you are hiring them out.
Items can include anything from bedding, throws, bunting, cushions, toys, teddies, to any other accessories you can think of that are trademarked with a recognisable brand.
To overcome this barrier you should focus on the overall canvas of your sleepover and create wonderful backdrops.
Try to create a scene… you can successfully do this through the choice of colour, shape and pattern. Keep it simple so that you steer clear from it becoming instantly recognisable to a specific brand. If you create a theme that is too specific it can be argued that you are copying.
As you can see from these images, BowBeez Event Company focuses on creating a perfect backdrop with their white tents by using colour and pattern.
They use bold primary colours of red, yellow, green and blue for the bedding, cushions, bunting and balloons. This makes a subtle link to the Toy Story logo but isn’t specific enough to overstep copyright infringement as these same colours are used in many other children’s brands (Lego and Sonic for instance).
They stay away from trademarked font, phrases such as ‘to infinity and beyond’ and don’t include any toys as props (this could have been an obvious choice for this particular theme).
Character images and names from the movie are trademarked. Interestingly, the toys featured in the film that were real toys before the movie such as Barbie (Mattel) and Mr Potato Head (Playskool) remain the property of the original toy companies. So even Disney / Pixar would have had to ask permission to use them! The toys that were invented for the movie, like Woody for example, will be trademarked property of Disney / Pixar.
This sleepover uses a balloon garland and a couple of the balloons feature a cloudy sky print similar to the wallpaper in Andy’s bedroom. Cow print is used in the cushions, tablecloth and bunting similar to the waistcoat worn by Woody, one of the main toy characters from the animation.
These are very subtle nods to the movie, but I don’t think they are specific enough for a case of direct affiliation as these prints could be linked to other products.
When advertising their set up on social media the company highlights the fact that the balloons and branded props are the families own which is very good practice.
This good practice leads me onto another option for you. I have seen some companies offer a basic package at a cheaper rate. Basically this means you provide a colour coordinated backdrop – the hire of the tents, duvets, cushions and breakfast table and the customer adds their own accessories. If the customer wants to use branded props to decorate then they are allowed to do so and they would not breach copyright as it is for personal use. Like the example above, you will need to make it clear when photographs are tagged or shared online that the merchandise belongs to the customer and cannot be hired.
BowBeez Event Company make a similar set up by again, focusing on the canvas. They use colour and pattern to create a backdrop, and decorate with the families branded toys and cushion.
Both the Toy Story and Pokémon sleepovers look like they have been set up by the same company. Are you able to see how your own unique style can help a customer recognise your own brand.
You may be wondering whether you can use merchandise that’s not official. I am referring to home-made items and products purchased from Etsy for example. Copyright rules apply to these items too. So if you sew bunting, buy a poster or use a breakfast box – if they have logos, phrases or designs that are recognisable brands then you will be overstepping copyright once you hire them as part of your sleepover set up.
It is a real shame, as the products are usually beautiful and very well made as I have bought quality items from there myself. However it will cause you issues further down the line when you find out you are breaching copyright. It’s 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, names and so on.
If you decide to go ahead and create a Harry Potter inspired theme be careful in terms of colours and props as too many specific links will be viewed as copying the brand and making money whilst doing so.
For instance, you may decide to stay away from official merchandise (which is good practice) and instead style your set up with non specific accessories. Décor referencing the four house colours, round glasses similar to Harry’s, a lightning bolt, and a wizard hat. On their own these individual props do not necessarily link to the Harry Potter brand (and Warner Brothers Entertainment wouldn’t own copyright to all round shaped glasses for instance). However, its important to realise that by putting all of these elements together is a clear attempt at affiliating with the brand.
My suggestion for a Harry Potter inspired theme would be to simplify it with one or two very subtle nods. I recommend staying away from the recognisable house colours and go with a classy monochrome colour palette to ensure there is no colour association.
I would attempt to create a wizard school backdrop by styling with beakers, test tubes and some general spell books and add some creative cobwebs – 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 love it!
In the images above there are some gorgeous Harry Potter inspired props by My Little Tea Party. My suggestion (and not criticism as I absolutely adore their work!) would be to take away 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 for your sleepover party.
The same copyright legislation applies when you purchase fabric. You won’t be allowed to create your own bedding, bunting, cushions or any other decorations if you intend hiring them out as this would mean you bought the fabric for commercial use. So you can make items for personal use in your home or for your own party but using them as part of your business will break trademark laws.
If you’re worried that your theme looks too generic then consider incorporating a branded balloon to your set up. Balloons are already given a commercial licence.
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 use it when hiring out your sleepover set up.
The Greatest Showman
They use red and white striped canopies to create a traditional circus theme backdrop, They use animal head props and acrobatic hoops to decorate the tents and link to the movie.
The stunning balloon garland sets off the theme perfectly and the drip style cake looks delicious. The circus theme carries through in the cake toppers, admission tickets and gold glittery ring master hats.
The props aren’t specific enough to affiliate with the movie so copyright isn’t infringed. They haven’t copied a brand, but they have put their own spin on a theme and transported the children into their very own circus.
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. Their Disney princess creation is perfectly pretty with subtle pink and glittery gold tones.
The Walt Disney Company have trademarked each of their individual Disney princesses. This sleepover is instantly recognisable yet generic at the very same time! A job well done!
Dreamy Play Days stay away from copyrighted images, font and phrases and create a beautiful colour palette that has no direct colour affiliation to any of the Disney princesses.
My Little Tea Party also creates a non-specific pink and gold princess tea party, and again doesn’t break any copyright legislation.
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 but doesn’t directly affiliate 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 a Disney princess in pink and glittery gold. The beautiful props of carriages, crowns and dainty shoes are also non-specific as they all relate to real life royal princesses not just Disney. Both examples show clever use of colour and accessories by putting their own personal twist on a recognisable brand.
If your customer asks you to create a Princess Jasmine theme for example, you can offer your own version by creating an Arabian Nights theme. You can focus on setting the scene… think golds, bronzes, 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 character and a beautiful setting to transport the child to Agrabah.
If you have a request for The Little Mermaid, you can offer your own version and create an under the sea scene. Don’t forget to create your own colour palette like Little Dreamers Teepee Parties beautifully illustrates in their stunning pastel tone set up.
There are so many superheroes, and the same applies with superheroes as it does with Disney princesses; they are all trademarked. Their character image, name, logo, colours and phrases.
This set up incorporates all of the bold primary colours making it impossible to distinguish one superhero from another. The balloon garland backdrop by The Glitzy Balloon Company focuses on a city scene giving a generic backdrop to the party.
Courtneys Creations & Events uses a retro comic style in its décor by using generic ‘zap!’, ‘pow!’ and ‘bang!’ terms. I believe that these designs are safe to use as they are not affiliated with a specific brand. They are recognisable as a comic style so it works well transporting the child into their very own comic book.
The comic style was used throughout their decorations – from their tent canopies, to the table cloth, party bags and cake toppers.
I appreciate clever little details so adore the vintage telephone booth displaying the cupcakes. A clever (but very subtle) nod to Superman. Wow!
I assume the customer brought the poster, capes and some of the cake toppers as they are branded items. If this is the case, then as its for personal use (rather than the owner of the sleepover business hiring it out) it doesn’t breach copyright legislation.
Winnie the Pooh
Dreamy Play Days are great at putting their own twist on well known themes. Look at this gorgeous woodland theme, loosely based on the honey-loving Winnie the Pooh bear. It would have been easy to use character or logo colours (yellow and red) but instead they use a palette of natural tones of yellows and browns and focus more on creating a woodland backdrop. It helps transport you into woods yet it doesn’t breach legislation.
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 effect. I think this has to be one of my favourites! Simple yet stunning!
A wooden honey drizzler stick on the breakfast table is probably the biggest nod to the Winnie the Pooh character, however it is ‘hunny’ that is frequently mentioned in the books and animation, not a drizzle stick so it’s very clever way of using props, colours and accessories to ignite a child’s imagination. The teddy bear merchandise will have to be the customers own and not hired out to stay within copyright legislation.
Fortnite and Minecraft are very popular video game theme requests. I recommend staying away from specific games and instead, offer a general gaming theme. You will reach a wider audience and stay within copyright rules.
Dreamy Play Days creates 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 it can easily pass for a Minecraft gamer party. By simply changing the colours to blue and purple you can have a Fortnite inspired theme. There’s no copyright infringements here as it is completely their own design with no character links, recognisable props or phrases used to cause any issues.
A company can receive large fines or be forced to shut down by infringing copyright rules. Don’t think your business is too small, as you can face legal action no matter what size your business is.
It takes a lot of skill to create your own set ups and if it was easy then everybody would do it. Use your creativity skills, think outside the box and don’t be afraid to move away from branded colours and create your own colour palette to really make it your own! Have one or two subtle nods to your chosen theme to keep things simple.
I hope this post has helped somewhat. Feel free to share this post with any of your customers who question you on why you are not allowed to create a Stranger Things, LOL doll or any other copyrighted theme. It may help them understand that you aren’t just being difficult.
Before I finish… check out another of my posts for a bit of inspo – see how a bunch of UK celebrities have hosted teepee sleepovers for their children: ‘Kids Sleepover Teepee Parties Celebs Can’t Get Enough Of’