Copyright And Fan Art
So one grey area that I’ve never been sure about is how copyright relates to fan art. Even if the art work is entirely your own, the characters that it depicts are still owned by the original creators. For the most part I don’t think fan art is harmful, in fact quite the opposite. Communities often form over the creation of work inspired by a particular franchise and this in turn can help to promote it. I’ve frequently bought new games because of videos and work created by the fans. Out of curiosity, I once watched a ‘Let’s Play’ of a game that I never intended to buy, and yet afterwards I went and purchased the game anyway. Fan creations are so easy to find on the net that I don’t think it would be feasible to chase it all up. I think it’s ok so long as it’s clear that the work is unofficial and that no money is being made from it.
Yet I’ve seen many fan creations being sold through online stores. From what I can tell, unless you have permission from the copyright holder this is actually illegal. While you probably wouldn’t get noticed unless you sold a lot, it could potentially be taking earnings away from official merchandising. If they decide that they don’t want you to make any more money from their creation they may send you a cease and desist order or even try to sue.
It can be tempting to try and sell work from an existing franchise as it already has a fan base and will probably sell more easily than an original work. I’m sure there are many people who get away with this and copyright holders who are willing to let it slide, but is it a risk worth taking? Copyright is an issue that I’ve always struggled to understand and I admit that if I see a lot of other people doing something then I sometimes assume that it must be ok for me to do it as well. The truth is, many of us don’t even realize when we are infringing on copyright. I always thought it curious when I saw fan art for sale and wondered if these people had permission to do so. While it has been recommended for me to do the same, this isn’t an avenue I am going to go down.