An Aberdeen mum has told of her devastation that her costume hire business will close following a copyright warning from the council.
Claire Harris, 34, runs Mascot Rental Aberdeen along with her partner Ryan Coutts, 36, and with the help of their daughter Chloe Coutts, 6.
The family started the business around a year and a half ago and frequently provide video messages and kids’ party appearances from characters resembling popular superheroes and cartoon characters.
Claire had understood that as long as they made clear the costumes were not the character they resembled, and did not use the character’s name, there would be no issues.
But she has now received a “big blow” in the form of notice from the council a complaint was made that the firm had breached copyright regulations.
They were advised hiring out costumes in the images of various trademarked Nickelodeon and Marvel characters without permission may give rise to criminal offences.
The news left the company with just two costumes which were safe to use, meaning they had no choice but to announce the business would close the business.
The business will close after Christmas, and Claire, of Cove, said: “It’s been quite a blow.
“When we originally received the email we actually thought it was a prank message to begin with.
“Obviously we’ve featured in the Evening Express, we’ve been on the radio, so we’ve been quite open about doing this, and we’ve been trading for a year and a half, so you can imagine getting this email out of nowhere we were quite taken aback.
“When we started up the company we had done a lot of research to make sure everything we were doing was legit.
“We were advised that as long as we had disclosure saying it was not a TV character, we never use any character names, and as long as all of our customers were aware of that then we were doing everything by the book.
“Unfortunately somebody had actually written to the council and had said that we were breaching copyright and trademark regulations.”
‘We will have to close down our company’
Claire, who also has a baby-sitting business, said: “We’ve done so much for charity over the lockdown period, we were never really making a profit from this business, we always either reinvested the money or we gave to charity.
“We’re doing an elf visit between now and Christmas and apparently we can do that because it’s not a trademarked item. But after Christmas we will have to close down our company.
“They’ve basically just said ‘do not use any of the characters’. We’ve only got two characters that are not anything that would resemble anything, so we can’t run a business on two mascots.
“My partner lost his job during lockdown, so between that happening and now Mascots not being able to trade, it’s been a big blow.
“We more just did it for the children. A lot of it we did for free. We did free videos and free visits. We’ve had to cancel a lot of children’s birthdays.
“We had a lot of feedback from parents who had booked. They were all really angry for us because we’d tried our hardest to make their children happy.
“Unfortunately we don’t know where else we can really go with this.
“It’s devastating for us that we’re going to lose a company that we worked so hard to build up. We poured a lot of money into the business for it to then just be a case of ‘that’s it, you can’t do anything with it’.
“It has been a devastating blow for the whole family, we’ve got a six-year-old daughter and she comes out with us to the visits so she’s been a big part of it as well.
“We had quite a lot of people who we had to cancel on and refund so that obviously cost us quite a lot of money as well.
“It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth.
“Some of the parents have been saying their children still speak about the visits that we gave them back in May, so it’s obviously a lasting thing that the children will remember.
“The children are really upset because they were looking forward to their birthday with a character coming along to see them and obviously they’ve had to have that cancelled.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “Aberdeen City Council Trading Standards Service has not asked Mascot Rental Aberdeen to stop trading.
“In late September 2020, the council’s Trading Standards Service wrote to Mascot Rental Aberdeen advising them that hiring out costumes in the images of various trademarked Nickelodeon and Marvel characters without the permission of the company that owns the intellectual property rights may give rise to criminal offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994.
“There may also be Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 infringements which could result in civil legal action by the copyright holders, in addition to any trademark infringements.
“The intellectual property owner owns the rights to the name of the character and the image meaning that permission is required to use either.
“Given our advice, it is entirely up to the business as to whether they continue hiring out these costumes, but they are now aware of their potential legal liabilities if they continue to do so.”