Fan-Art and Copyright

We often talk about authors’ rights and fan-art. This is a very delicate topic, and it requires caution, as it may be a problem for Artists creating Artworks inspired by characters or stories originally created by others. It’s a topic that can be also extended to cosplay, texts and games.

What does the copyright law say? The rights holder has full capacity to prevent unauthorised copy, distribution, performance (such as cosplay) or viewing of a character. This capacity is also extended to those which are known as “derivative” Artworks.

Rightsholders often use search engines to try and find pictures that infringe their rights and requesting them to be removed. Sometimes, artists who published derivative artworks have even been asked to pay the rightsholder to compensate them.

The derivative artworks are located within a “grey area” in the already complicated copyright law, and reactions can change depending on each owner. Actions may also vary from country to country: in France, for instance, stands are often closed down because of Copyright infringement.

What can be done?

According to the law, creating and selling fan-art is a violation of the authors’ rights and can cause problems. In order to legally sell fan-art, it is necessary to buy the “right” to economic exploitation from the holder.

To name an example of this problem, several publishers are taking actions to try closing the “Comiket” and take down the “dojinshi” world connected to it.

Usually, authors tolerate online fan-art, as it helps increase the popularity of the characters, while allowing talent hunters to find potential new artists. The formally correct procedure, when producing fan-art, is to indicate the name of the character and the original rightsholder (for instance, for Knights of the Zodiac characters, the caption should read the character name, followed by SAINT SEIYA © 1985 by Masami Kurumada/SHUEISHA Inc.).

Can I register a fan-art on Rights Chain?

Yes. Our suggestion is to attribute a CC BY-NC-ND license. The attributed license is only valid for your artwork, as the character was originally designed by someone else. We are currently working on tools that will allow a simpler fan-art registration process, with respective credits.

Can I register an OC (Original Character)?

Once again, the answer is yes. The suggestion this time is to use a CC BY-NC-SA license, so that you can retain economic rights over your creation, and also make it easier if (hopefully) someone should want to make a fan-art, or cosplay your characters.



About the Author

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Sebastian Zdrojewski

Founder, (He/Him)

Worked for 25 years in the IT industry facing cyber security, privacy and data protection problems for businesses. In 2017 founds Rights Chain, a project aiming to provide resources and tools for copyright and intellectual property protection for Content Creators, Artists and Businesses.