Selling Fan Art – Find Out All About Fanart and the Legality Aspects of It

Selling Fan Art

What Are Fan Art and the Fan Art World? What Does Fan Art Means and How It Helps Struggling Artists? Also,what Are Commissions?

Fan art (also spelled as Fanart)  is one of the popular and trending art genres in which the artist fans recreate the characters, locations, or any other elements from an already existing fictional work. These are characters, locations, or objects from movies, TV shows, comics, video game animations, books, cartoon shows, or any other work of fiction. Fanart can be in any form. It can be a painting, graphic design, sketch, digitally created artwork, caricatures, prints, or any other art form. The point is, artists, create fan art to show their love and to pay tributes to these fictional works, and also for selling Fan Art. 

Selling Fan Art
Selling Fan Art

Fanart doesn’t need to be always created by professionals. A lot of people come under the umbrella of the fan art worlds like the amateur artists who are trying to build their portfolio with their artwork, professional artists, concept artists and designers, CG designers, various e-commerce websites that sell fan art, websites like Deviantart or Artstation that offer a platform for the artists to display their fan artwork or the people who commission these types of artwork. 

What Do Commissions Mean in the Field of Art?

Commissions, in the field of art, is the process when someone (an art collector, a fan of a fictional work, online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other client) seeks an artist for creating a particular artwork as per their specification and pays them for their work. Many artists prefer art commissions because it paves way for improvement, helps them explore their creative skills, create an audience and showcase their talent on multiple platforms. 

How Does Fan Art Help Struggling Artists?

For struggling artists, fan art is a huge platform to build an audience and gain popularity on social media and any other forum for that matter. There are millions of fans around the world who love to see their favorite characters being showcased in numerous different forms of art. This is a great opportunity for budding artists to display their work and grab the attention of the fans to expand their network.

By doing this, they may even get noticed by commercial enterprises or clients and get hired to do projects for them. With this, a lot of things might be coming to your mind like “can you sell fan art?” “Is fan art legal?” “How to get permission to sell fan art?” Well, when it comes to selling fan art, there are various conflicting legal aspects to it which will be covered in the next parts of the article. 

(Disclosure: To start with, I have to disclose that I’m not an attorney and this article is not legal advice.)

Is Selling Fan Art Legal? Also, Can You Share Fan Art?

Selling Fan Art

There is always a wave of debate going around within the art communities and the fans on whether selling or sharing fan art is legal or not. If you are trying to enter into the commercial side of the fan art field, there are a few crucial things that you need to know about the legitimacy of making money out of this art genre. Making money, generating profits, or getting financially benefited directly or indirectly in any other form by ‘selling fan art’ is considered illegal unless you have written consent from the copyright owners or the original company who have created the character. The original creators may react to it and take action against you. 

A lot of it depends on the owners as well. While some companies are flexible and do not mind you utilizing their creations for business purposes because they take this as a way of ‘advertising’ their products, some are pretty strict about enforcing their rights. In those cases, you may be sued for fan art copyright or trademark infringement. With that said, creating fan art or sharing it on different platforms is not a problem as long as you are not making money out of it. However, if sharing your artwork obstructs the business of the original creator of the actual company holding the copyright, then it is considered an infringement. 

Companies Adapting to People Selling Fan Art of Their Intellectual Product

Many people are trying to do business by selling the fan art creations of their Intellectual Product (IP). Some companies are adapting to this situation by partnering or up with these platforms. Specifically the e-commerce marketplaces. This enables the artists to sell their artwork with a license. One such prominent platform is Redbubble

Now, Let’s Quickly Understand What Copyright Infringement Is and What Are Trademarks? 

Copyright in simple words is the legal right that the owner of an intellectual property holds; this means that the owners or the individuals who they authorize are the only ones who have the right to recreate or reproduce or make changes to their work. An infringement of copyright occurs when a third person apart from the owner’s copies or recreates the work without the proper consent of the owners. 

Trademarks, on the other hand, are the uniqueness of a work (be it a symbol, name or series of words, etc.). It represents a company or a business and others cannot use it. 

With all the arguments in place about the legality of selling fan art, there are some common myths that the artists have about selling their fan art. Do they have a solid defense against their statement?

Some Common Myths Regarding Copyright Infringement

  1. Artists designing fan art argue about copyright saying that it’s their authentic artwork, and not an infringement. They have produced it by investing their time and energy. This is far from truth! They have copied from an existing art which is 100% illegal.
  1. Another misconception that the artists have is the art that they don’t sell for commercial purposes. They either give it away free of cost or only charge for the cost of the art materials used in creating it so they are not making any profit out of it. This also is not right because in doing so, they are taking away the business of the original creators or the authorized company that is involved in selling its product which is not ‘fair use. Also, giving it away for free may hurt the sentiments of the creator of the product because their work is worth a cost.
  1. Some argue that they have only used a portion of the actual creation, say for example, a part of the location or the character which is far away in the background and cannot distinctively be seen, so when they are selling fan art of that sort, it should be absolutely fine. The law still denies it saying that it comes under infringement whether you copied a portion of it or the whole art. 
  1. Most artists from the fan art community think that there are no fan art lawsuits and not many people have been sued for selling fan art, so they are not going to be affected. Even though there are no lawsuits and many companies do not react to it, selling fan art without the consent of the original creators is still a violation of trademark which is illegal.

If the Companies That Own the Intellectual Property Do Come After the Artist for Selling Fan Art, What Are the Steps the Artist Can Take to Properly Respond?

Many companies don’t waste time filing lawsuits against a fan art artist. Some companies take it positively, some business entities are very stringent about the rules. If they take legal action against you for selling fan art, here are few defense arguments.

  • People not using fan art for commercial purposes can put that forward to defend themselves.
  • Put forward the subject of fair use. There can be many different implications of fair use like for research work, teaching, criticism, commentary, parody, etc. Normally, fan art doesn’t come under criticism or commentary, though you can always say that your work was a parody. This is considered to be a safe defence argument. 
  • Also, talk about implied consent, which means, many creators or actors express their appreciation towards the artists who create fan art based on their character which proves to be a good motivational factor for them and encourages them to improve their art skills. 
  • According to the First Amendment of the American constitution, you have the right to freedom of speech. This can work in your defense if you are able to use it appropriately. You should know exactly what to speak and how to speak. 

So far, this article has given an insight into how generating a profit from fan art is a legal offense. How it can be a risky affair if the original creators of the artwork get upset about it and take legal actions against you. But many people are involved in selling fan art. Are you wondering how they do it if it is not legal? Well, some people do risk it at the cost of being sued.

How Can You Sell Fan Art Legally? What Are the Steps or Actions You Need to Take to Sell Your Fan Art Creations Without Facing Causing an Infringement? 

If you want to sell your artwork and earn money out of it ethically, here is what you can do

Fanart Programs

There are a few programs and websites that offer a platform for you to sell your fan artwork legally. As long as you follow the rules and specifications set aside by the copyright owners. Do the research and find out what those platforms are. Understand all the rules and regulations before you use those platforms. 

For example, Redbubble.com and Teepublic.com have partnered with some of the well-known brands. They have started a fanart program that allows you to create your artwork. This has an legal license and you can sell it on their portal. There are certain guidelines that you need to follow.

You may probably have to seek approval from these websites. Regarding whether you can use certain intellectual property for your work. If your request is approved, you can go ahead by showcasing your work. 

How to Get Permission for Selling Fan Art?

In order to do this, follow the below steps: 

  • Find out who the owner of the intellectual property is or the copyright owner is. You will usually find the name of the copyright owner next to the copyright symbol “ © ”. In most cases it is an establishment or a company. Find out their contact information and try to reach out to them. 
  • If you have difficulty in reaching the copyright holder directly, look for assistance. There are representatives who can assist with the copyright information and enquiries. They can connect you with the actual copyright owners. 
  • Draft a formal letter seeking permission to sell your artwork. Address it to the copyright owners, mention clearly your name and contact details in the letter.
  • Mention the reason for writing the letter that you want to sell you fan art. Also, where you want to sell it (name and url of the website).
  • You can also include some of your fan art samples for them to see. Ask them for permission and request them politely to respond within a certain time. For example within a week or 10 days once they receive your letter.

Some Other Methods Involve

  • Send the letter to the address of the owners of the intellectual property mentioned in their website. You can also send it their representative who is in charge of this on their behalf. Make sure to send the letter through a registered post. Also, request for a return receipt so you know when the receiver has received it. You may anticipate a response time based on that. 
  • Also, send a letter via email if you have the email address of the owners. Request a ‘read receipt’ so you know once they receive and read your email. 
  • The copyright owners may either respond to you permitting you to go ahead. They may also reject your request and not grant permission. 
  • If they accept your request, at times they may propose some kind of offer that they may also get benefitted from or ask for licensing fee. Make sure to respond to them without a delay before they change their mind. 
  • If they don’t grant permission to generate profit with your offer, try negotiating. Discuss some kind of licensing fee or talk about how this can benefit them if you have a huge fan base. This works if you can afford to pay the fee because in most cases, the copyright owners deal with companies with million dollars turnover. 

Conclusion

There are many conflicting opinions on whether creating fan art is right or wrong. Some institutions or art academies say that since you are making reference to the original artwork. It doesn’t show your actual art skill because it is not your unique creation. While others believe that there is a lot of hard work that goes behind creating fan art. The character behind the work may be the same or may not be the unique creation of the artist but the variations added in terms of colors, costumes, background, props, etc. need creative ideas. It is also a way for the artist to express his or her fandom. This pays tribute to their favorite character or the fiction work. 

Fanart is a great way to build a fan base and showcase your work. Especially if you are trying to expand your audience. However, if you want to create fan art and sell it for profit, you should opt for an ethical way. Selling fan art without the consent of the original owners is a violation of the trademark. 

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs) 

Is commissioning fan art legal?

Selling fan art for money is considered an infringement of copyright. If you get requests from the fans for creating fan art for them, the best option is to politely reject the request and tell them that you do not do fan art unless you have written permission or a thumbs up from the original creators to do so.

Can you sell fan art for free? Will it be an infringement?

Yes, it is still unethical if you are giving away fan art for free because this way you may be taking away from the sales of the actual copyright owners.

Can you include fan art in your portfolio?

While some institutes do not accept fan art as a part of their portfolio, this has become a common practice everywhere. Artists do tend to include fan art in their profiles or portfolios. As per law practitioners, it is a violation of the law.

What can you do to sell fan art for profit?

If you are good at fan art and want to make money out of it, you can get in touch with an attorney who has specialized in copyright laws and understands the requirements of the rules and regulations first.

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