Copyright Holders Vs. Artist Alleys
We've been seeing more and more stories about what is sold in Artist Alleys. Many companies (like Disney, Marvel, FUNimation, etc) are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with fanworks making money. But this isn't big media cracking down on the little guy. Characters, just like the actual content of books, logos, phrases and more are copyrighted. That means that companies and creators own the rights to produce works based on those characters, use their names, image, etc. While I can understand fans speaking out about these policies, it's well within the rights of these companies and individual creators to claim the rights to their work and prevent others from making money based on those characters.
So what is legal and what is illegal?
The simple answer is, if you create a fanwork for your own personal consumption, say to practice drawing or writing, or as a gift to a friend, that is more than likely okay. The illegally, and danger of finding yourself in legal trouble, comes from creating works featuring copyrighted characters, logos, names, phrases, etc, then selling them when you do not have licensing rights* to them. It goes beyond simple creator requests that you refrain from creating fanworks. Selling fanworks based on material that you do not own is illegal. That is the point of copyright law, to prevent others from stealing another person's work or ideas to sell as their own.
Bleeding Cool published an article this week about rumors that Marvel and Disney may be looking to crack down on unlicensed Star Wars and Marvel prints at conventions. Similarly, FUNimation announced before Anime Expo this year its stance on fanworks, and the things they would possibly be pursuing legal action against. In this day and age it is very easy to save a file on a computer and print it out on a consumer printer in high quality. And unfortunately, it makes it very easy for artwork to be stolen and either passed off as legitimate and licensed, or for fan creators to create high quality prints of their fanwork on demand.
As a member of the industry, and as a fan creator myself I've seen both sides of this issue. But I am also a creator of original content, and the idea of having that work used without permission makes me sick to my stomach. As creators we put so much effort into our creations, so to see someone else profiting off of those ideas or creations is bound to put you in a sour mood at the very least. Individual creators have a harder time pursuing copyright issues than big companies. It may be related to the cost of filing copyrights and trademarks, or attorney fees to actually pursue a case. But first and foremost, someone must alert a creator that their work is being used illegally and without their consent. Marvel, DC Comics, Disney, and other industry powerhouses have sections of their websites dedicated to reporting copyright infringement. For those indie comics creators, or self published authors finding their work being used illegally can sometimes go unnoticed for quite a long time before it is finally brought to their attention.
So while no one is telling fan artists or fan writers to stop creating great fanworks, the industry is asking them to stop selling those works. Fandom and geek culture is a great mixture of fans talking about and sharing their favourite things. But there are ways to do so without using the work of others to make a profit. Use licensed characters to refine your own work. Then create something entirely your own. Develop your own style based on the influences of your favourite artists, and writers, and crafters.
*A license allows someone other than the owner/creator to use copyrighted material. It is a legal contract stating that certain uses are permitted such as to make merchandise or derivative works.
Originally published on 10/4/2015 at conventioning.wordpress.com