Art

Is Fan Art Illegal? Yes But Maybe Not Always


We all love Fan Arts, don’t we? I mean how can you not like those, they showcase how much imagination can improve the perspective. But sometimes creators, publishers, and studios claim that works of fan art violate their copyright.

Does that mean you should throw away that spectacular fan art you are working on over the fear of a company suing you?

Nope! but there’s a catch.

Batman v Superman

Think it this way, the reason your fan art gets so much attention is because you’re drawing characters that a company like WB has invested in marketing the actual characters.

According to copyright law, copyright holders have the sole right to distribute derivative works based on an original creation. This includes sequels and any other work that includes copyrightable elements from the original creation

From a copyright holder viewpoint, fan art is usually not harmful. Fans create works that actually serve a valuable service to copyright holders by providing a thriving site for fans to visit, keeping them entertained and engage between official releases.

In short, since fan creations don’t take away sales of the original work, they are often seen as free promotion and a way to grow the brand without cost or effort.

Yet, despite a relatively strong legal position, lawsuits over fan art are extremely rare.

Easily half the artists exhibiting at any mainstream Comic Con or Anime Show make and sell fan art. And by “fan art” I mean merchandise featuring characters the artist does not own: prints, buttons, tee shirts, key chains, hats, tote bags.

Creating those amazing artworks is one thing and commercially exploiting it is another, In simple words fan art done to make a profit will expose the fan to the risk of suits for copyright and trademark infringement but that doesn’t mean one that does make any profit from it are free.

How To Avoid Lawsuits?

Harry Potter

Something that isn’t a exact replica can be a bit immune under “Fair Use” (Maybe?)

Say you draw some fanart of Pikachu from Pokemon. You didn’t use any of Nintendo’s official Pikachu art in your drawing, and you interpreted Pikachu into your own unique style. This fanart counts as a derivative work instead of a copy, because you have made significant creative changes to the original character. In this situation you are probably less likely to have a lawsuit against you.

Many who create and sell fan art should know that selling fan art without permission is illegal and can be morally objectionable, still you can in a way support yourselves from those fan arts. How you ask, well something like Patreon can do the trick, basically you’ll can give fan art as perks and in that way everyone can be happy (probably).

I know at Break Bang I post a ton of Fan Art from variety of amazing artists and sure that kinda makes me inappropriate to speak on this but hey it’s always better to be prepared.

Cover Art by Yvan Quinet

The Unusual geek, Having a special place for Anime and Manga. Art lover and a crazy Internet Surfer.

View Comments
  • Terence Green

    So it’s okay if I want to make a pokeball key chain for example and sell it localy just for some cash but I may not create a business out of it. Does handmade things make a difference? What if the thing I’m copying has become a trend like Star Wars and Nirvana?

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