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Fan Art Law

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 6:58 PM by techgnotic:icontechgnotic:

Fan Art Law

Mon Sep 10, 2012 by techgnotic


t seems there’s nothing quite as dear to the hearts of many of our deviants as their production of fan art, and at the same time, there is nothing so knotted with legal and ethical headaches. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the form of fan art it has also become one of the most frustratingly complicated. At some point, the sheer volume of fan art around a single property may become so large that the issue rises to another level of scrutiny by the creators of the original work.

With this dynamic in mind, we thought the following panel that Josh Wattles, our Advisor In Chief here at deviantART, and a mystery guest named Harold Smith, gave at Comic Con this year might be of immense help in understanding the ever evolving elements of fan art law.

Josh Wattles, makepictures is an expert on copyright law bringing perspective and experience to the issue from multiple creative industries. From art, film, music, and books, Josh has been directly involved in or advised on copyright issues for the biggest properties in the world. He is also a copyright professor teaching courses at at Loyola, Southwestern and the University of Southern California law schools in Los Angeles.

And for all of you Star Trek Fans out there, Josh was the first lawyer at Paramount Pictures to work with Gene Roddenberry on creating policy around the massive quantities of fan fiction submitted to Gene and to the studio some of which ended up as Star Trek stories published by Simon and Shuster.

Interview withJosh Wattles

Should I worry about drawing or writing stories about characters from my favorite books, TV shows and movies?

makepictures:Not if it is a private activity.

Does whether I sell them or not make a difference?

makepictures:Yes. It’s not the best idea.

Can I copyright my own fan art which is based on already copyrighted material?

makepictures:It depends on how much of the original work you used and if the original work can be completely removed from the second work. When you file for a copyright you must disclose all pre-existing content that does not belong to you and you must have authority to use it. That’s a complicated question with fan art.

Different authors, artists and companies seem to have different attitudes about fan art, with some encouraging it and others forbidding it.  How can I find out which entities I might get in trouble with and who’s completely cool?

makepictures:You can’t unless you contact the owners yourself and ask. There are some situations that are ok because the owner is encouraging fan art, such as in contests.

Is there a list or index?


Am I responsible for other people circulating my fan art all over the Internet without my express approval or even my knowledge they’re doing it?

makepictures:Technically, maybe.

Are there websites I should familiarize myself with that explain how to stay “safe” within the bounds of “legal” fan art creation?



How do you feel when creating a piece of fan art or fan fiction around your favorite character or story?   

Is fan art a pathway in your evolution as an artist?

Josh Wattles, $makepictures is an expert on copyright law bringing perspective and experience to the issue from multiple creative industries. From art, film, music, and books, Josh has been directly involved in or advised on copyright issues for the biggest properties in the world. He is also a copyright professor teaching courses at at Loyola, Southwestern and the University of Southern California law schools in Los Angeles.

Highlighted Comments
[link] by *KrisCynical

Writers: $techgnotic
Designers: $marioluevanos
Panel Speaker: $makepictures
Video: *toddgrossman & `neither-field
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MondoArt Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Hobbyist General Artist
- How do you feel when creating a piece of fan art or fan fiction around your favorite character or story?  
I loved it, if its a character I love or admire I would do my best to show respect by drawing as accurately as I can

- Is fan art a pathway in your evolution as an artist?
Absolutely! by first learning how to draw from certain artist and certain characters I love, my skills grew and helps me develop my own style.
milovanf Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I think making a trouble of how fanart is illegal is nothing but a waste of time. I haven't heard yet that a fan art creator got sued for making a fanart. Only fool would do that who believe that fan art = offense. Not fanart = a compliment. A respect for a hard work that artist(s) put in.
yuukiXakira Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
i still dont understand it completly.
for example naruto is a manga and also an anime.
what will be acceptable and not ?
for example if i draw scenes from the serie and post them here for free am i allowed to still do this ?
and if for example i make bases or original characters of naruto and ask money of them is this still allowed ?
Serinne Featured By Owner Edited Jul 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for all these informations.
I personally consider that fanart is a good way to make a work live a long time, for example works that ended years or decades ago. It can attract new readers/viewers/fans that could possibly buy the original art.
I'm currently writing fanfictions and if I couldn't do it, I would not forget the original works but at least put them aside after some time. One can only read (in the case of a book) a work so many time before feeling bored. Fanworks keep untertained and maintain the enthusiasm for a work.
So I consider fanart a really good thing.
While sustaining the interest for a work is good, making money on it is not. This is offensive to the autor. I would be extremely angry if fanart was completely forbiden because some people don't respect the autors.
As an artist, I permit people to do fanart of my works if they refer to me, do not usurp my identity as the creator and if they do not try to sell it.
Ken-Masters Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2015
this guy goes all around the way to a simple answer. fan art is illegal period.
milovanf Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Then have fun saying that to over 10 million fans of anime, 2 million fans of Sonic The Hedgehog and 1.5 million fans of Walt Disney TV shows. You'll need it.
STUDIOCGS Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2015  Professional General Artist
Thanks for sharing. This was a great watch.
pineapple-pocky Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015  Professional General Artist
What about drawing commissions where the artist gets a very small profit, but the one who commissions it isn't going to resell it?
Ken-Masters Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2015
milovanf Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Read a comment better kid. She said, "Commissions" not "fanart".
Pascua-Tanya Featured By Owner Edited Dec 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Good night makepictures. The theme of Fan Art is very confusing to me :(.

I have a big doubt about it: When the fan art is completely legal?. Since a few years ago I learned the true reality of the Fan Art and it was not pretty. I no longer have the same opinion as before and honestly the issue scares me. Since I was small I thought it did not matter if I drew my favorite character when I want. I thought that was normal, fully permitted without any charge. And now know that this belief is a lie....Now I know that the Fan Art is illegal o.O.

For me the Fan Art is a hobby and also a means to honor those characters that I like and their creators. My intention is not to make money with Fan Art or my original art, because I have no interest in doing business with my art. In my gallery not there Prints (only one but it's no big deal), for that reason. However, I am still concerned about the Fan Art and Copyright. Does Fan Art is only illegal when I want to get monetary benefit to him? Is it legal if I do just for fun and publish websites like deviantART or my personal blog?.

I really want to know if the Fan Art is legal in certain circumstances, if I will not have legal problems and if I can keep doing fan art without fear. I also have original characters (based on the style of a series but with design and own history, which if it is legal) and original art, but I love Fan Art and do not want to stop. But I do not want to believe that I'm doing something wrong just by do fan art.
makepictures Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2014
I hope you watched the video about this on YouTube: It will calm your concerns considerably and provide you with good direction.  Making fan art and not selling it is considered to be a welcomed interaction with the subject of the fandom.  Companies that control major fan properties like Star Wars have come to realize that fan art is just the same as someone posting a personal review or writing a friend to recommend a movie or book.  Fan art starts to be an issue for these companies when it is sold (even if it is sold for charity) or when it damages the property.  Bad art, is OK, but art that shows bad things might not be.  Of course, copyright law and trademark is on the side of the property owner.  As a technical matter you need permission but on a practical level you don't - - in many cases.  Please watch the video.  It will help.
Pascua-Tanya Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you very much for your answer, Mr. Wattles :).

I'm sorry, but it is not possible for me to see the video because English is not my native language (I'm Spanish speaker). Thanks to DeviantArt and to my limited knowledge of English,that I have acquired at school, I have learned slowly to write in English, but my domain is not complete, so I need rely on translators and dictionaries to sometimes. And when it comes to spoken English, I can easily lose me. It's a little easier to understand when someone writes in English, that when speaking in English. If I see your video, I will not be able to understand what you want to explain :(.

I know that this video is exclusively for people whose native language is English or who have an excellent command of the language. But it would also help if this can be taken to other languages ​​such as Spanish, for that those who do not speak English can know information too. Is there any way I can know what you are explaining the video if I can not speak English?. It is that this information is very important, especially if comes from someone who knows very well the topic as you. I read some articles in Spanish, but I yet have worries.
makepictures Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015
You are correct that DeviantArt should do a better job of providing support for different languages. Maybe you can find a Spanish speaking deviant who is bi-lingual in English and s/he can translate the audio for the benefit of the entire Spanish speaking community on DeviantArt interested in Fan Art.
Pascua-Tanya Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Good news, I have found someone who can translate the video ^^.

I know you approve of this but, also I should get permission from the people who developed the video?
makepictures Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015
I am the "people who developed the video" so you have my permission.
Pascua-Tanya Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I always thought it would be useful to have a multiple language interface on DA. The site has almost 15 years and it is strange that this possibility has not been considered yet, because other sites of US origin already have that option. What is the view of the Staff of DA about of translate the page into several languages? Do you consider it necessary or not?.

I'll see if I can find someone who can help to translate the video :).
makepictures Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015
We have, of course, wanted to provide the site in multiple languages.  Websites built in the past six years or so can do translation fairly easy because of the modern codebase.  DeviantArt is based on older code which means that we would need to build the site all over.  That's easier than it sounds but its also very expensive and we cannot afford it now.
Cupcakequeen16 Featured By Owner May 9, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I really need think twice about the art I'm submitting right now. I do not want to get into trouble.
thomassir857 Featured By Owner May 2, 2014
It's been good to see your blog when I always look for such type of blogs. It’s great to discover the post here. criminal lawyer ny
Nox-ious Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Over all... as long as it doesn't involve money... it's okay , right?
and you credit everything to the original makers...
TXToonGuy1037 Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2014  Student General Artist
 This is pretty helpful!! I can't stop coming to this page!!! :D (Big Grin) :D (Big Grin) :D (Big Grin) 
Zidneya Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014
How do you feel when creating a piece of fan art or fan fiction around your favorite character or story?   
Good because I show the world why,how, and what I like about that topic.

Is fan art a pathway in your evolution as an artist?
By learning to recreate and master the different types of drawing, animation, writing and perspective help any artist because they broaden their horizons.
Etsuko-Hime Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i find it difficult to put words on my feelings for fan art :3 i love how i can spend days, weeks on 1 single drawing showing how mutch i love story and being able to draw the characters in my own setting! it is an amazing feeling and its just lovely to create art :D

i can't really answer this question, I'm only 21 my wiew on making fan art might change or i might end up drawing something else in the future, but i don't know that XD
MrPryminista Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2013  Professional General Artist
Awesome! Thank you for putting this together! 

I recently did a piece of Predator fan art. You cant take a look at it here:…

It is fan art, entirely non-commercial and I am not one of the original creators of the IP. However, it does emulate the original IP. I'd image I'm in the clear given that I've got 3 out of 4 parts correct.

I've also added the web address for my blog to the image. I am using an emulation of another creator's IP to promote myself as an artist.

Is that something I should be concerned about?
suikojay Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2013
I created some fan art of Sailor Moon, and if I wanted to upload them to the Internet so that others can view it, it sounds to me that it would be technically illegal?  And would it be illegal for me to use them as an avatar picture on a forum?

Thanks Josh!
DanteSmilodon Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You should always search the web something like "does X franchise owner allow fan art?" 

From my knowledge, if you did a commission using copyrighted characters = wrong. However, it's even rarer to get sued for this than downloading and distributing thousands of songs.
thereistoomuchbutter Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2013  Student General Artist
I understand the thinking behind being against already copyrighted characters/stories/tv programmes/franchises etc because these have all already been through the artistic process, a creator has already made all this up using their own vision. While there is NOTHING wrong with an artist then taking inspiration from that thing and making something new (I mean, no idea is really NEW right?) we shouldn't be able to make money from something that is blatantly recognisable as another thing that an artist has created-

But if the rules were not to copy/repeat something that was created by another artist and make profit from it we'd be all screwed...Romeo and Juliet (or a similar theme) would be copyrighted by old Shakey (although some might argue that it wasn't even his idea originally... was he the original fanfic writer?) and then we would all be restricted to such small lanes of creativity, which is crazy, we're a communal species, we bounce inspiration and ideas from each other, always retrying old methods and recreating old stories. (-I know you may accuse me of sailing down a slippery slope but basically I'm saying that ideas are free in the creative world - otherwise things like Twilight would never have happened (god forbid -.-))

But I can see that it's because these franchises don't want people making money from what is by law belonging to them (capital, property, money cha ching, the law is an ass etc etc etc).

But MY issue is with the laws regarding k-pop (/j-pop) fanart. Straightforward sketches and portraits I guess would be treated like any other celebrity. But there's quite a few of us now who are using k-idols' facial features/characters in a new setting we've created, essentially using them like a model. 

There's already been massive controversy over copyright because fanartists who aren't in South Korea (where most of the idols are most of the time) can only relying on a number of things as reference, one major source being fancams and fantaken photos, (spread through sites like tumblr) and there are many photographers who DON'T object to their images being used as reference as long as they are credited or linked to-they leave their credits on images (but then again, if you don't reference ONE specific photo, rather take a general impression from several sources you aren't effectually breaking the law, I guess?). And the other major source is through official mediums like music videos and fashion shoots, which I personally don't like to use because 
a) the image is not the best representation of them, having already gone through editing 
b) that's someone else's hard work; costume, lighting, directing etc etc has all gone into that, essentially it is someone's artwork and 
c) you're not doing anything NEW, just copying another image into another format (kinda like taking a photo of a painting and making it your own - something only conceptual artists would be allowed to do...)

I can understand that making money from someone else's "property" isn't cool...but isn't what we're (i.e. kpop-fanartists) doing very similar to every artist who's ever drawn something and sold it from people watching, without paid models? Or the fresh faced Victorian art students studying Michelangelo and Bernini and painting the Venus de Milo in their paintings? Or Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe's face? ????? Or is that different? idk

I mean, nothing is going to stop me being inspired by these people and using them as models (although if the law dictates I can't, I will just do it in private and not share it.) because it is almost always THEM and their personalities that drive any kind of concept I have.

Sorry this got so long D: ...I hate them blurred lines =.=
zomgmad Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2014  Hobbyist
Romeo and Juliet (and all of Shakespeare's works) are in the public domain, as is the Venus de Milo.
larmax545 Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2014
Seems most litigation is created via law schools establishing arguments for commpensation in behalt of proposed clientel, it seems, however I do not know!  Best of luck!
makepictures Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2013
I'm a bit confused about what you make and what you do with what you make as part of your fan activity around these k-pop and j-pop idols.  If the your work is (i) not sold (particularly not sold as authorized in any way) and (ii) is only distributed to fan-based groups, then even though there are still legal issues the practical result is why would the management of the k-pop group want to stop you?  I assume if they asked you to stop anyway, you would stop as a show of respect to your idols.  The legal issues, since you describe your work as only using images as reference for faces, are principally ones related to the right of publicity.  The right to use someones face or likeness is usually protected only against commercial exploitation or a use that defames or injures the reputation of the subject.  To be clear, I cannot give you any specific legal advice and I wouldn't do so anyway with so few actual facts in front of me.  And the law is complicated and changes tremendously depending on where you are located.  As I said in the video, showing pure love as a fan should not be painful - - then again, love is painful at times.... haha.
JuPMod Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013
I've recently gotten a deviant telling me that my buying of fandom/fan art commissions (meaning I pay artists to draw a fan art for me) is against dA rules and copyrights. Yet I've been buying fan art commissions for years here on dA, and if this is the case, why does the administration allow artists to draw fandom/fan art commissions? I and the artists are not making any money off these commissions, for they are fan art, meant for fun. I see no artists selling prints of these commissions either. 

So what's the deal? Are artists allow to do fan art commissions or not?
drakeyuuhi Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013
I wonder why this site allows people to pay others to draw fan-art like Naruto when this video telling me this site doesn't allow it at all.
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