Note: This is a neutral commentary on the creation of fan works! I strongly encourage you to use this information and other sources to create your own opinion.
No one thinks deeply on the nuances of publishing and copyright until there’s a problem. The question I’m going to pose is simple: How far should a company go to protect its content from being stolen? We’ve all heard about the big internet scandals where the government is trying to “crack down” on music piracy, but how much deeper does this go? There are creators all over the world who create both original works and adaptations of others – the adaptations sometimes being accepted, and sometimes completely forbidden and immediately taken down.
Recently, my friend sent me a cool adaptation of the Avengers trailer. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to see her message and click on the link, the video had been removed from YouTube under violation of copyright. Where should the line be drawn? The author wasn’t gaining a profit from the content, and if anything was creating interest in the film itself (not that the whole world wasn’t interested in said movie).
Another example is how tight a hold Anne Rice has on her content. Rice has completely banned the use of her characters or ideas in all fan created works, all “fanfiction” completely forbidden and taken down as soon as it goes public.
So how much is too much? While the artists have the legal right to pull anything that’s created with their original ideas in mind (or intellectual property), some don’t mind at all. But here’s where the laws get complex. Artists hold full rights over their original characters and ideas, but courts in America grant protection to parodies! Some fan art can also be categorized as parody… Actually, quite a lot of fan art. As good ol’ Wikipedia states, because of this fact a lot of copyright cases are very long and tedious.
Along with the artists that are strict with their copyrights, there are also those that are extremely lenient. While it’s still illegal to reproduce their works in original art or stories, some artists and companies don’t pursue the perpetrators at all. While most individuals don’t sell their fanart, some do. The most common example is selling art prints, plushes, or other works in which there is a copyright on the character, but the art is copyright to the artist “stealing” the design but creating the artwork. This happens often in conventions such as Comic-Con or other conventions (science fiction, anime, etc) to appreciate a genre or other type of work. While there is a section for licensed companies to sell their merchandise, a convention also typically includes a completely separate section for small businesses or thrifty individuals to sell art they’ve created themselves. These are curious galleries, because the majority of the art pieces for sale are of copyrighted characters, and therefore very illegal to sell! However, these pieces rarely get targeted by the original creator. Why?
The answer is that most artists recognize fan works generate interest in their own product. In a poll of artists who do fan art, the majority state that selling their work is only a novelty; most artists only break even after production costs and profits, if that.
So, who’s right and who’s copywrong? There is a plethora of laws and legal issues surrounding fan creations, which should definitely be glanced at if you’re thinking about drawing that cute Watchmen picture or creating a fan trailer of a movie. However, Fanart is a running trend that will most likely continue strong.