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Exclusive: fury as Cancer Research UK accused of stealing campaign idea

This news post is over 9 years old

​Small Scottish charity says the UK's biggest cancer charity ripped off its ideas

Scottish fundraisers say they have been left stunned and “exploited” after being “steamrollered” by the UK's biggest cancer charity.

The Unite Against Cancer (UAC) group says it has been forced into a David v Goliath struggle with Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Organisers say they have been left astonished at the charity giant’s action in allegedly stealing UAC’s ideas wholesale for a new campaign which has just launched.

CRUK’s We Will Unite drive aims to raise funds and awareness in the run up to World Cancer Day on 4 February.

As part of the campaign, people are asked to wear “unity bands” and have been pictured making a distinctive hand on breast gesture – meant as a symbol of defiance against cancer.

However, UAC says the entire campaign is lifted from one it was already running and it has accused CRUK of using similar bands, gestures and symbols, as well as the “unity” theme.

Even the fundraising text codes are similar, says UAC. UAC’s is UNIT31, while CRUK’s is UNITE.

This is just another example of large corporations exploiting the little people. We have been steamrollered out of the way

UAC was founded by Colin Smith following the death of his brother aged just 17 from bone cancer in 2012.

Celebrity backers who have been pictured with the UAC bands include Blur’s Damon Albarn, Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington and Holywood actor Josh Brolin.

Smith says the campaigns’ similarities are no coincidence – and this is attested to by the fact that he was contacted by a representative of CRUK who were concerned the name Unite Against Cancer had been trademarked by Smith’s charity.

Blur's Damon Albarn supports the UAC campaign
Blur's Damon Albarn supports the UAC campaign
Cancer Research UK's campaign
Cancer Research UK's campaign

At first, Smith said he was delighted CRUK were getting involved – but was left distraught when he was told UAC would be pushed aside.

He said: “Cancer Research UK got in touch with me a few months ago to say that they were going to take our name and use it for something on World Cancer Day, as they were aware that we had trademarked the name.

“We asked if we could work with them, they said no. We therefore gave them a categorical no with regards to using our name for any campaign as they didn't seem to get the whole concept of uniting against cancer.

“Despite this they have gone and used our unite against cancer concept, they have introduced a wristband and are doing the same pose we get our supporters to do.

“They have been following us for two and a half years on Twitter and are aware of who we are and what we do.”

Smith said he would have liked to work in partnership with CRUK and to have an arrangement where some funds come to UAC.

He says his charity is volunteer run and every penny donated goes to the fight against cancer. Recently it announced it was funding a masters scholarship in cancer sciences at The University of Glasgow.

Smith said: “100% of your donation goes towards making a difference with Unite Against Cancer as we are volunteer-led charity.

“This is just another example of large corporations exploiting the little people. We have been steamrollered out of the way.”

He now says he and his trustees are looking at legal action to gain redress.

There are distinct similarities between the two campaign images

A Cancer Research UK spokesperson said: “On World Cancer Day, we are calling on people to unite and remember those lost to cancer, celebrate the survivors and rally in support of those currently fighting cancer.

“We regret that a fellow cancer charity, Unite Against Cancer, has claimed that Cancer Research UK infringed its legal rights through the choice of words we are using to rally support for World Cancer Day. We have not used the words “unite against cancer”. Instead, our publicity materials state: “We will unite on 4th February 2015, World Cancer Day because together we will beat cancer sooner.”

“We are selling unity bands as part of our campaign. This unique band is made of two parts which form a knot to represent strength in unity. They are available in a range of colours from all Cancer Research UK shops for a suggested donation of £2.

“Contrary to claims made by Unite Against Cancer, at least 80 per cent of the proceeds of the sale of these bands will help fund Cancer Research UK’s vital research into all forms of cancer.”

A whole host of celebrities have backed Unite Against Cancer's wristband solidarity campaign over the last two years.

Colin Gregor, Scotland 7s captain
Josh Brolin, Holywood actor
Rebecca Adlington, Olympic gold medallist
Tim Cahill, former Everton football player