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NotLegalAdviceI am not offering legal advice in any way – I am not a legal professional and I have no cred in that regard.

This is an area I’m interested in and want to share what I’ve learned and my thoughts on the subject.

If you want legal advice – seek a legal professional.

“Occupy Artist Alley” &
Copyright Scrutiny

There has been a rise in notice of copyright infringement issues in the Artist Alley.

In response to blatant rip-off artists, movements like “Occupy Artist Alley” have called for the ban (or at least more strict policing) of fan art in convention artist alleys.

Some conventions – particularly Anime conventions, have put a restriction on the percentage of fan art allowed per booth. Others, like the Dallas Comic Show have outright banned any form of fan art at the convention, and reserve the right to remove you if they find any.

Fan Art – the new drug. lol.

Okay no – in all seriousness this is a big issue for many artists – especially merch artists.

It’s a well known fact in the convention circuit that fan art will more often make more sales at a convention than original character designs.

It’s totally a drag – but it is what it is.

Fandom and fan art was an area of the convention floor that DC, Marvel, LucasFilm and other big names in entertainment looked away from OR actively encouraged because it promotes the fandom.

It’s a sharing and a growing of love for the characters and stories.

Generally speaking, an independent artist could probably create and sell fan art and never really worry about running into legal issues unless they started selling hundreds of thousands of copies – effectively infringing on the profit of the IP holder. (IP – “intellectual property”)

BUT – Copyright Law is Clear

Regardless of your sales – the law is pretty clear:

Do you own the IP?

  • YES – do what you like!
  • NO – Stop making fan art.
  • NO, but I have a license with the copyright holder – make whatever you can within the confines of your license!

And that’s it.

Seriously. Everything else is infringement and legally liable:

Making, sharing, displaying online and offline – all of that is copyright infringement.


Here’s a lawyer:


But then, there’s this side

Many artists draw fan art as portfolio pieces and examples of their gifts and ability to draw the characters with skill and fluency.

It is an avenue for artists to be seen by the commercial companies as a viable and talented option for them to hire.

In many cases, artists tapped to work with Hasbro, Marvel, DC and others are chosen to do so because they bring a signature style and aesthetic to the character that isn’t in the original conception.

It is the blending of a unique artistic style and realization with a well-known and loved character that produces a creation that is made better, or enlarges the fanbase by appealing to a larger audience than the original.

Katie Cook brings the Cute

Katie was making fan art in her particular style at conventions for years before she was approached by Hasbro and Scholastic to work on the characters in an approved and “official” capacity.

You could definitely argue that creating fan art opened the door for these commercial opportunities to be a possibility for these artists.

I have this print.

I have this print.

I have this print.

I have this print.

Here’s a page of commissioned fan art.

A browse through Katie’s old deviantART account shows up tonnes of fan art.

Whether these were for sale at conventions – it’s hard to say.

Katie definitely did sketches of copyright IP characters at conventions – but I have no idea whether it was for sale or promotion…

It doesn’t matter though – the black letter of the law says that it’s copyright infringement and the fact that Katie brought her unique artistic style and flavour to the property is essential to her getting hired.

Jason Edmiston does Pop Culture

I’ve spoken about Jason on the blog here before – and again he is representative of my point.

Creating and selling prints for comic conventions – in Jason’s recognizable artistic style was instrumental in opening doors to opportunities to work in the business.

Jason has made his name creating work based on existing copyright properties in pop culture.

Browse his store and you’ll find many IP’s – but take notice that they are often accompanied by a license to produce.

When Jason was first exhibiting at the comic cons, he was creating fan art to sell as prints of characters like Transformers, Harley Quinn and the Joker.

Since working with Hasbro and Neco Toys and Warner Bros and especially Mondo – Jason’s work is far more cogent of licensing requirements. (Read the interview of his latest show at Mondo in Austin and why he won’t be selling prints.)

The Cartoon Network has recently launched their online store to leverage fan art work for a select group of creators. Jason painted Marceline from Adventure Time atcncposjefor a limited edition run in their shop.

There is little reason to question that Jason’s considerable creative work with Pop Culture icons in his well-developed signature style, were a significant factor in opening doors to work with the large stakeholders in the entertainment and toy industry.

Livio Ramondelli is another artist who was working with copyright characters in artist alley and was given the opportunity to draw for Transformers because of his fan art work.

The least risky options

Cynthia LiuThe least risk is obviously to create all original characters and content like Koyamori. She’s never going to have to worry about copyright issues.

If you are adamant about creating copyright characters – either to gain the attention of the industry or showcase how your artistic style suits the genre – here are some rules to follow that may help keep you out of trouble (though I don’t promise anything – see the not legal advice disclaimer up top).

As Josh Wattles outlines in the video above (seriously – watch the video – he’s very thorough and it’s not overly boring and you could truly save yourself some giant hassle), if you want to share the love of the fandom:

1: Don’t sell prints or originals of copyright characters.

2: Don’t distribute prints or originals of copyright characters.

3: Don’t align or associate yourself with the copyright holders or suggest that you have copyright.

The “rule of life” as Wattles puts it, looks away from small independent artists contributing and enlivening the fandom through creating prints and commissions.

Fan art is illegal.

Fan art is copyright infringement.

We may end up paying the consequences for it – or it may open the door to greater opportunities in the industry.

Only you can decide.

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In order to become more organized and productive in my art biz, I came up with a checklist of steps required after finishing an art piece.

There’s no foolproof way of keeping your images safe online… but there are ways that you can minimize the appeal of taking yours.

We can’t just be stealing images off the Googles to prettify our blog posts anduse as reference for our art… As much as we’d love to – it’s rife with legalities. Here are some options that promise inspiration without the infringement.

Pinterest and Fancy and artists who love them and some small copyright issues. Uh oh.

Here’s a video from my friend Kyle regarding the proposed copyright laws from ACTA. ACTA