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Guest Blog: Tanya, Photos of Teddy Bears

August 2, 2011

Today’s guest post comes from Tanya (Moonie) at Moonlake Designs, and it’s all about the do’s and don’t of photographing teddy bears. I know some artists enjoy taking snaps of their bears and other toys. The same general rule will apply no matter what object you’re photographing – if you didn’t make it, you don’t own the copyright. Read on for some good information, and join me in thanking Moonie for all her diligent work!



It seems so easy. You’re a photographer and you collect teddy bears, so you think you’ve got a quick and easy way to make attractive greeting cards: just photograph the cute little bears, add some text, and you’re done. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear whether the bears you’ve purchased are under the manufacturer’s copyright or not, and whether you have a right to sell commercial products with their images.

I was asked to make this guest post to shed some light on a very confusing issue, and I was surprised myself by the outcome.

GCU has policies regarding copyright and intellectual property rights. Making greeting cards using someone else’s property (yes, you took the photograph, but an image of an identifiable bear – like an image of an identifiable automobile – may be under copyright to the creator or manufacturer) can cause delays in the review process since GCU has no way of knowing whether you have permission to use the bears on a commercial product.

If you’ve gotten the necessary permission, and you’ve followed the requirements of each manufacturer or artist creator to obtain a license (more about that later), be sure to include that information in the Notes to Reviewers field when you’re creating a card. You’ll have much smoother sailing and you won’t have cards Returned for Edits or Declined for possible copyright infringement reasons. Also, GCU has stated in their Wiki that they don’t really want photos of store bought items like teddy bears unless the photographs are studio quality – meaning good lighting, in focus, well cropped, good composition, etc.

Now let’s talk about bears!

General Rule of Thumb: Do not include the name of the bear or the manufacturer or creator in your keywords. This will cause them to be declined by GCU.

Common Bears: That is, stuffed teddy bears with no special tags or identifiable marks, which can be purchased in any Dollar or Pound store and are not attributed to anyone in particular.  These you can photograph to your heart’s content.

Barbara Ann Bears: I spoke to the lovely Barbara Ann Bears, and as she sells thousands of distinct bears that are easy to spot, I figured she would be an excellent starting point. Barbara’s take was: if you photograph her bears in any situation (decent of course), you will be required to add in your Artist Notes the company name and website if possible. In this case, you’d put in the Artist Notes – Bears by Barbara Ann Bears.

To be honest, that is exactly what I would expect if someone wanted to photograph one of my own bears for commercial use, but like Barbara pointed out, it’s always nice to be asked and she is happy with that. I’d say most artist would be happy to be asked rather than a photographer presuming they can do what they want without permission.

Merry Thought Bears: This one’s harder. I telephoned them and spoke in person to the lady who deals with these issues (they have a full legal department). Merry Thought requires you to have a licence to use your photograph for each bear, particularly the Cheeky Bear – this bear holds a licence all to itself as it is their key signature bear. So if you plan to photograph anything from Merry Thought including the rocking horses which they are famous for, you will need to email them what you are going to do with it, where you plan sell it, and a small picture of the card. They will then instruct you regarding a possible license.

Gund and Boyd: To obtain a license, you must first contact them by e-mail requesting a licensing form. Fill out the form, include the photographs you took of the bears, send the whole lot off to the company, and wait until they give you the thumbs up. When you get permission, you must include Bears by Gund or Bears by Boyd in the Artist Notes.

E-mail address:

Dean’s: These were my biggest surprise to be honest. Not only were they quite happy for you to take photographs of the bears, they did not even want you to remove the labels and tags, they left that one up to your own discretion (quite clever, really). Dean’s are one of the UK’s big guns and sells globally. They also carry artist bears, but each of those bears has the Dean’s logos and tags. Now Dean’s told me if you remove the foot tag and the tags and all other marks, please be courteous and put Bear By Dean’s, Name of bear if applicable, in your Artist Notes. BTW, they loved the idea of their bears on cards. I was rather taken aback but then Dean’s boss is a sweetie. I have had dealings with him previously.

Steiff: Steiff is a BIG no-no. They will not tolerate anyone photographing their bears for commercial use in any shape, way or form. They say you have no right to do this even if you own the bear, and their legal department will take a dim view of any violation. So no matter how cute that Steiff bear is, don’t go there.

Russ Berrie Bears: Now Russ… I always loved talking to them, and the lady was so very helpful. Basically, Russ is NOT out of bounds. They are quite happy and have for a long time allowed people who have purchased their bears to use them for this purpose, but you must not have any keywords, Artist Notes, or any labels, tags or distinctive marks showing to alert the customer that it is a Russ Bear. You can even use the Signature collector bear by Russ Berrie himself (pre-death of course) but you must remove his signature from the foot of the bear, no tags may show. The bear you use is irrelevant as long as you stick to those guidelines. They also require you to email them and to attach a small picture of the card you intend to make. This is for legal purposes. They will reply, and she said they are always very happy to do this.

This makes me happy as I have all the signature bears plus some rare ones that only shops could get for display

Original Hermann Teddy Bears: This is a big one we all recognize. I was told by the Managing Director of the company that while they have no problem with you taking photographs of their bears for personal use, you must identify them either company name, by making the red teddy tag visible or the company’s older marque. BUT – and this is a big “but” – if you want to use that photo commercially, as in mass market greeting cards (which is GCU), then you must write them for permission and pay a licensing fee.

The address to send a permission request is:

Teddy-Hermann GmbH
Margit Drolshagen, Managing Director
Amlingstadter Str. 5
D-96114, Hirschaid

So you see, most of the time, (but not all the time) the manufacturer is okay with granting permission as long as they’re assured the cards including their products are in good taste. Most of the time, you don’t need to purchase a license, just ask permission and follow the guidelines. If you’re using several bears on a number of cards from one manufacturer, I suggest you send them photographs of the entire series of proposed cards at one time rather than individually to save time and hassle (of course before uploading to GCU).

Artisan Bears: These take a long time to create (I make them myself and they can take days depending on which bear you are creating) so please be courteous and ask the maker. Most are approachable, there are a lot of good artists out there who will take time to answer an email. Be nice and ask. If permission is given, out of thanks to them just place Bear By: Artist Name or company name in the Artist Notes.

If you are a teddy bear artist and you’re taking photographs of your own designs, do not title your photograph/art as Teddy Bear Birthday Card By Avalon Bears (for example) or put this information in the keywords. This violates GCU’s rules. Put the information in the Artist Notes instead.

Second Hand Bears: What happens if I don’t know the artist because the bear was bought second hand? Well that is not really an excuse to be honest, with the Internet and forums there is always help at hand. If it is straw filled, bean filled, and well made using mohair mostly, and has joints, you can bet it’s not made in China with no pattern.

These bears are usually identified with a small bum tag saying the name of the artist, and/or bear company. It could be as little as Bears From Bruin. You might say “huh?” but these artists can recognise a bear from a mile off as they tour fairs and each other’s stores, so each bear artist will know another by nature if they are in those circles. It costs nothing to do a little research and send an email. Bottom line: if you are in doubt ,don’t use it for your own sake.

What if your bear has a “made in China” white label, no description, just the safety text on the label? Well, you can photograph it unless it also has the copyright symbol. In that case, research will be required before you can use a photograph of the bear commercially. Bottom line: cover your bases, do the research to identify the bear before you make a card or any mass market commercial design.

How do you tell if your teddy bear is an artisan bear?

  • Cotter pin joints: Feel the bear’s arms at the top. You will feel a disk of card, a hard circle, it will differ from the commercial joints as these are usually plastic and not as defined.
  • Seam: Run your finger down the bear’s spine and/or sides. On an artisan bear you will feel the seam nine times out of ten. Of course, this method isn’t perfect, but it’s the best you can do.
  • Ears: Feel the bear’s ears. If they’re slightly rough, and you can feel stitching, I’d bet on an artisan bear because their bears are not for children, so the ears can be attached differently than a manufacturer who has to comply with safety standards.
  • Wrist: Gently run your fingers down the arms to the paw pads. If the bear has a slightly bent wrist, you will feel the pinch on an artisan bear.
  • Nose: Feel the nose. Has it got straw in there? Bit of a crunchy feeling? A lot of artists use this technique. Another point with the nose is the ever telling stitching. Each artist has a style of their own. My bears had big old noses and little eyes, easily recognisable by me. A lot of the artists, purely because they have to hand stitch the bears, will recognise the nose as it has been practiced over and over again and they usually (not always) but usually do stick to what comes naturally since the nose can take so long to get perfect.
  • Eyes: Rub your teeth on the eyes. Are they glass? if they are, then they are artisan bears, as not many use plastic. Only the wild, wacky bears will have plastic eyes.
  • Color/Material: If it is wild coloured, an obvious long hair tie-dyed effect, and is mohair, again an artisan bear.

With or without labels, artisan bears are easy to spot, including the miniature bears. These will also have distinct seams and joints. Some use cotton joints on the tiny bears. I have one no bigger than half inch, but it’s still jointed and is an obvious one. Bless him, his label is bigger than he is!

So in short, if you want to photograph teddy bears (or any stuffed animal, or doll, or toy bought from a store, a garage sale, a fair, or anywhere else for that matter), it’s best to be sure to get permission from the manufacturer and/or artist BEFORE you start uploading cards or you may find yourself in a legal pickle.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2011 8:26 am

    Hi Tanya,
    I don’t photograph teddy bears, but you sure did a very well researched article! Thumbs up, great blog!
    barbara schreiber

  2. August 2, 2011 8:51 am

    Tanya, Thank you for collecting all this information for us.
    I am also a signature tag maker for groups,..dealing with copy-write issues myself, Id like to also add…if you do email and receive the okay to use a certain bear …its always smart to save copies of those emails as proof of contact.
    I just may give this area a try after I do my homework, I love bears and have a full blown collection there are bound to be a few in there not ©.
    Thank you again Tanya.
    Janet Lee

  3. August 2, 2011 10:51 am

    Like Barbara, I don’t photograph teddy bears either, but I would also like to congratulate you on a well-researched and entertaining article. You have shown that having “Freedom to Operate” by choosing wisely what to photograph and making sure about what licensing arrangements are required really is the key to ensuring that the results of one’s creativity don’t bite the dust purely on a technicality!



  4. August 2, 2011 1:04 pm

    Hi Tanya,
    Great article! ♥♥ I am wondering, about how much does a licensing fee run? Is it for just one photo, or for all photos you might take of a particular bear? I’m thinking of using my old Hermann teddies. If it’s too expensive, I won’t even take the photographs. If you don’t know, that’s okay.

    • August 2, 2011 2:27 pm

      Evie, if you contact Hermann – there’s an address in the article – they can give you all the information you need. A licensing fee is going to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.


  5. August 2, 2011 1:29 pm

    Great article Tanya, Whew! It makes me so glad I don’t do bears, that looks like a lot of work.

  6. August 2, 2011 1:32 pm

    Wow -great info – well researched and well written. Great article. This makes a lot of sense -I don’t do photography -but I have had photographers ask and pay me a fee for using my art on faux book covers etc. Not surprised about the teddy bears usage issue, etc. Must always respect the original creator and ask permission to be sure.

  7. August 2, 2011 1:43 pm

    Tanya, Thank you for a very interesting and informative article. Personally, I don’t do Teddies, but back years ago when I was studying photography, I did a lot of them. My children were young and they were easily accessible. (Besides they were much more manageable subjects that a squirming child. (>8)
    I was wondering, as I read your article: If the bears are just there and not the focal point, is that acceptable? Kind of like we can do cars. I think the cars can also be done if there are a number of them in the image?
    Thanks again!

    • August 2, 2011 2:38 pm

      Sue, I believe GCU’s policy on automobiles is – if the car is identifiable as a particular make and/or model, you may not use it. Car manufacturers have trademarks on all their makes and models. A photograph or image of a car that does not show any logos, but is still identifiable as a certain make/model is a no-no (such as a VW Beetle). It’s a ticklish area.

      What I get out of the article is that teddy bear manufacturers are protecting their intellectual property by requiring permission before an image of their property is used, they don’t want their logos or tags displayed, and most seem to want to see the image before granting permission. If I were you, I wouldn’t use any bears in a photo, focal point or not, unless I had the okay from the company. Otherwise, GCU may reject the card for copyright reasons.



  8. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    August 2, 2011 2:03 pm

    I haven’t used bears for years in my images, but I found this a very informative article on Teddy Bear Photography.

  9. August 2, 2011 2:09 pm

    very informative and helpful. A much needed article. Thank you 🙂

  10. August 2, 2011 2:28 pm

    You certainly know your Teddy Bears! Great article! I haven’t used bears, truthfully I try to stay away from anything that I did not create. I like my life simple.
    However, I did create something with a very recognizable ‘fad’ one time. I wrote to the company, sent the images (low res’), told them what they would be used for and asked if I could use them. Surprisingly the president of the company himself contacted me, thanked me for respecting his copyright and wished me luck with my cards and even told me what keywords I could use. You never know unless you ask.

  11. August 2, 2011 2:32 pm

    Wow Tanya, very informative. Thanks for the education. I’m enjoying all the GCU newsletters and guest blogs. After reading this guest blog, I’m rethinking an upcoming Pet Portrait. The dog to be painted has over 100 toys (many of them stuffed animals) and his own toy box so I’d suggested putting the toy box and toys in the painting background. I’m guessing this is ‘fine’ for a one only original painting but would this be an infringement and not acceptable for use on a greeting card if I include any copyright bears and or other trademark stuffed toys in the painting. Painting the exact toys will be as important to the guardians as painting their dog’s exact expression. Should I rethink this painting and only include the non copyright or generic toys? I think I’ve just answered my own query and that’s a ‘yes, rethink’ but would appreciate further advisement. Cheers, Lisa

    • August 2, 2011 3:13 pm

      Lisa, even a one-time commissioned Pet Portrait is you making money off of using those toys’ images … let the Pet Mom know that there are toy copyrights that you are legally bound to respect. You might even go a step further (and really shine in Mom’s eyes as a professional willing to go that extra mile for a client): Ask mom if any of the toys are especially important to her to have in the portrait, then contact the manufacturers for permission, with a copy of the photo you’ll be turning into a prized work of art! Be sure to tell them that THEIR toy is one that Pet Mom is especially hoping to get an “OK” on : )-

      • August 2, 2011 3:48 pm

        Thanks Peggy, That’s great advice to contact the manufacturer for permission and to let them know the toy would be featured in the painting because it’s one of the dog’s favorites. I’ve always been very respectful of copyright to the point of only using photo reference that I have permission to use. I’d never reference a published book, calendar or such and if it were not for this great blog by Tanya, I might have inadvertantly referenced a copyright image in this painting without even thinking about it. Tsk Tsk to me, I should know better. And you are so right Peggy, even a one time painting and if I didn’t ever use the painting for a greeting card image, it’s still profiting from a copyright or licensed product/image.

  12. August 2, 2011 2:55 pm

    Fantastic article Moonie, thank you!! What a wealth of information! We are so fortunate to have our very own expert in the gang!
    Doreen Erhardt

  13. August 2, 2011 3:15 pm

    WOW – Moonie – not only a SUPER article, but I learned something new about you, to boot! Your article is wonderful – while I currently do not have any Bears to photograph, my sister is a serious hobby collector and I imagine when I’m back East this info will be very helpful while I visit. Also, I have my own stuffed Cocker Spaniel collection, and your article will be invaluable to me when I start using them in photos (as soon as my furkids start respecting which toys are mine and which are theirs on-set)!! THANK YOU! I think this is my favorite guest-blog to date (followed very closely by many of Doreen’s)!!

  14. August 2, 2011 5:03 pm

    Great information! Although I don’t photograph bears myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article! Thanks, Tanya.

  15. August 2, 2011 5:05 pm

    Aww thanks everyone, really enjoyed talking to the bear world again 🙂 most are so lovely I guess its all the fuzzy fluff around them makes them more mellow 😀 I really really enjoyed it so thanks for the opportunity to have a reasearch break, ty corrie for *cough* all my messyness and rectifying that 😀 and allowing me to do the fun stuff hehe .

    Hugs Moonie

  16. August 2, 2011 8:38 pm

    We can use Russ? Oh boy. Let me at ’em. I don’t know if I’m good enough at photos for GCU but those guidelines will help anywhere.
    The differences in opinion on this between companies is interesting. Some recognize free advertising with credit, some think it’s stealing and some think ‘whatever just don’t name me’. I’ve always been amazed at how people object to free advertising as long as your not selling the actual product. (As in, as long as I’m selling a picture of the bear and you sell no pictures but instead the actual bear, I’m getting you customers. They may not have even know it existed beforehand. Now they want the bear. You can’t hug the picture.)

    For me the real challenge are the ‘no label’ bears. I’m working on a panda one that I’ve had since childhood. Forget finding the label, it’s long worn away. Forget finding it on the internet either. I’ve tried. (Although I was interested that the popular ‘pot belly bear’ line of the time was recalled.) I love the idea of using these though. It gives them something to do besides getting dusty in the closet.

  17. October 15, 2011 3:37 pm

    Thank you for providing such a thorough list of bear companies and their policies. Along with greeting cards, I also create Squidoo pages about bears, so it’s good to know which companies will let me use their photos and which will not! Great work, Tanya! 🙂 Heather

  18. October 23, 2011 12:58 pm

    Great article, I didn’t know some of those companies where so strict on taking images of their bears but do understand why if you are wanting to use them to resell items that you have made, same for all copyright images / logos etc I guess but doesn’t seem to stop people using the images etc on ebay to sell things they’ve made!

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