Is it legal to sell fan art? How to sell fan art legally (2023)

Is selling fan art illegal?

Are Copyrighted Character Fan Art Commissions Illegal? The answer is, whether you create fan art for profit or not, any use of copyrighted characters or trademarks in a description or title without the prior written consent of the copyright owner, selling fan art is illegal but making fan art is not illegal.

Confused? Then you can thank copyright.

Read on to make sure you don't risk being sued by millions.

There are many ways in art and law to interpret meaning and risk prosecution by the copyright owner for illegal fan art.

Read on if you need a deeper understanding of what fan art is, how to get permission to sell fan art, why selling fan art is illegal, and the like.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, have never practiced law and this opinion should not be taken as legal advice. If you need professional legal advice, consult a licensed attorney in your city or state who specializes in copyright law.

My firstFan Art CommissionAs an artist, he was like an eight-year-old. My colleagues paid me in chocolate to draw Marine Boy. One of the first Japanese anime cartoons of the 1960s, Marine Boy was about a young boy who could swim underwater. Animation had a resurgence in the 1980s when I was a kid.

Little did I know I could have been sued by the copyright owners. Luckily I was only 6 years old and no one but a few lucky classmates knew I had made the drawings.

I never asked myself, "Is that it?Legal turns into fan art"„?

Pssst.. quick if you just want to know how to get permission to sell fan art read my other post which covers this topic in more detail –How to get permission to sell fan art.

If not, read on!

Need fan art ideas? I have the perfect hacks and an A-Z listing

this linkFan Art Ideas Hacks with great examples from A to Zbrings you to another article where I detail how I come up with unique fan art ideas.

can i use it checklist

Please feel free to share this infographic and provide a link to this page. Thanks.

Is it legal to sell fan art? How to sell fan art legally (1)

What is fan art?

Fan art is any artwork in any medium (digital and physical products) that features characters or settings not originally invented or created by the artist selling the artwork.

(Video) HOW TO SELL FAN ART the legal way + Copyright Law for Artists & Redbubble Fan Art Program

It can be art, novels, short stories, goods with well-known cartoon characters. Even characters from games, films and cartoons in new settings, or even a complete copy of a well-known image reworked by the artist.

Fanart commissionsThey were there long before Betty Boop appeared on the sides of WWII bomber planes, so why the fuss now?

What are commissions?

Simply put, commissions are whensomeone like a collector, artFan, someone who wants to gift someone an artwork will find and pay an artist to create an artwork specifically for them based on their specifications.

The artist and buyer usually negotiate prices and terms, e.g. B. which works of art are created. Commissioned artworks are usually one-offs and are not available for resale unless the artist retains image rights for prints.

In the case of fan art, a buyer can commission an artist to do itcreate a unique work of artbased on a popular character or scene from a movie, cartoon, popular item, car, etc.

An example would be if I received commissions on muscle cars from popular models and brands.

One day I received a notice asking me to withdraw my drawings of all my 1960's Chevy Camaros that I had for sale.

I figured that would never be a problem, most of the cars I drew were from the 1960s and 1970s and were part of popular culture.

Chevrolet and GM didn't place that order directly, they hired an agency to track anything for sale online that matched certain keywords.

If they're not licensed, they'll request takedown for copyright infringement or face legal action.

I haven't had this problem with other GM brands like Pontiac, Corvette or Holden, nor with Ford.

Why is selling fan art illegal?

The main problem withSelling fan art commissionsNot only are they illegal, but creating fan art can interfere with the sale of officially sanctioned and licensed merchandise.

The illegal part is not paying royalties or asking for permission.

Some artwork copyright owners give fans a little freedom to create artwork without charging anything.

When a copyrighted or trademarked image is used in a way that wasn't originally intended, it becomes a problem.

(Video) Selling Fan Art the LEGAL Way

This could be swapping words in a trademark for an offensive word but keeping the same design, or portraying a healthy cartoon character in a not-so-healthy way.

Some websites that allow you to upload art for sale, such as B. Redbubble, viaFan Art Affiliate Programhas now entered into an agreement with a number of copyright owners to pay royalties on fan art on behalf of the artist when a sale is made.

For more information

The laws of art and fan art

Art falls into one, possibly two, categories of intellectual property. Works of art can fall under both copyright and trademark law. The other two categories that art does not typically fall into are trade secrets and patents.

Copyright ©

AccordinglyWikiwhich was based on primary sources of information:United States copyright lawaims to encourage the creation of art and culture, rewarding authors and artists with a range of exclusive rights. The copyright grants authors andartists the exclusive right to manufacture and sellCopies of your works, the right to create derivative works, and the right to publicly perform or display your works. These exclusive rights are limited in time and usually expire 70 years after the author's death. In the United States, all music composed before January 1, 1924 is generally considered to be in the public domain.”

So as long as an artist is alive or their estate administers the rights for up to 70 years after their death, you have many limits on how you can leverage creating fan art. This period of 70 years can also be extended, take Disney as an example. If the law was strictly black and white, could anyone copy Mickey Mouse past 2024? NO!

You can only copy the first version of Mickey Mouse, later versions cannot! Article;“The expiry of copyrights on characters like Mickey Mouse and Batman will raise complex new legal issues. After 2024, Disney will not have copyright protection for the original incarnation of Mickey Mouse. But Disney will still own the copyright to subsequent incarnations of the character - and will also own Mickey-related trademarks."What us to…

If you are interested in researching more about copyright, I found that Amazon has a lot to offer please click on the links below - please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Understanding Copyright, Seventh Edition (Understanding Series)Is it legal to sell fan art? How to sell fan art legally (2)
Copyright, Cases, and Essential Materials (American Casebook Series)Is it legal to sell fan art? How to sell fan art legally (3)
Copyright (examples and explanations)Is it legal to sell fan art? How to sell fan art legally (4)


again accWikiwhich was based on primary legal sources of information:“A trademark (also brand or trademark) is a type of intellectual property consisting of a recognizable sign, design or expression that identifies products or services from a particular source from others, although marks used to identify services in general referred to as service marks. The trademark owner can be an individual, a commercial organization or a legal entity. A trademark can be on a package, a label, a coupon or on the product itself. Brands are often placed on company buildings for reasons of corporate identity. It is legally recognized as a type of intellectual property.”

What does brand have to do with art? Well, many people inadvertently infringe a trademark by using trademarked words or logos in their description or their own artwork. Any logo such as B. a Coca-Cola logo used on artwork is prohibited. The same applies if you use an X-Men logo on the chest of a character you design.

Use of Trademarks in Your Art Titles

As already mentioned, one of the attacks I was made on was by a bot that searched the Internet for certain keywords. The company using the crawler found that my keywords were very specific and, without reviewing my artwork, requested that my artwork be removed.

If I hadn't been so specific about the make and model of the car, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten the disassembly notice. At the same time, I'm sure most buyers would never have found my designs without the right keywords.

While you need to be specific about your keywords in order to be found, be careful not to step on trademarks when registering a domain or listing an item for sale. Using a trademark in your URL can even allow the trademark owner to take over your domain!

(Video) Can you LEGALLY sell fan art on Etsy

Fair Use – Ist Fan-Art fair use?

There is a doctrine in the US, and most parts of the world have a version of it to protect artists called Fair Use.

"Fair use is a doctrine of U.S. law that permits the limited use of copyrighted material without first obtaining the permission of the copyright owner."

If you only create fan art and don't sell fan art, you make no profit from selling copyrighted images as you're only doing this to further your skills and build a portfolio, then your work would fall under fair use.

It is listed below on the government's official copyright website.

In addition, there is a code of conduct that is created specifically for artists and can be accessed here

Here is an excerpt:

..the right to doFair use of copyrighted material is a fundamental tool in the visual artscommunity, although its members do not always choose to use it. They can still obtain copyright permissions, for example to maintain relationships, reward someone deemed worthy, or gain access to material needed for their purposes. But in some other cases, including those described in the Code, they may choose to use copyrighted material fairly to further their professional goals.

Where the law is on the artist's side is when the artist is using copyrighted material for inspiration or admiration and provided it is not an exact copy, d should be fine. The problem is, if you're doing this with fan art, the original art you're trying to copy will bear very little resemblance to the original.

Many members of the visual arts community apply fair use in their professional practice, and many do so on a regular basis. For example, scholars and their publishers use fair use in the context of analytical writing (e.g. when using reproductions of copyrighted artwork and quotations). Teachers rely on it - along with other copyright exceptions - to show images of work being discussed in class and, even more so, to provide relevant images for students to use outside of the classroom. In the museum context, fair use can be used in exhibitions and publications, as well as in a variety of digital and educational projects. Artists can use fair use to build on existing work, engage with contemporary culture, or make artistic, political, or social comments. And the fine arts community at large benefits from fair use as it enables improved access to archival materials. These are just a few of the more common ways in which fair use is central to the practice of fine arts.

So where's the you or me? Should you accept commissions for fan art? I answer that below.

Should I risk accepting commissions for fan art?

Personally, I still take commissions for fan art. And I do so knowing that there are some risks if I manage to get the attention of copyright owners.

In most cases I will be instructed to withdraw my artwork or stop selling it. I don't usually charge enough to pose a financial threat to the copyright owner, and unless I make a substantial income from it, I doubt I'll ever end up in court. However, I stay away from disputed works by copyright owners.

I am not advocating that you break the law and I am in no way responsible if you are sued. I have expressed my personal opinion and that risk is mine and not yours. Please remember that if I receive a request to remove artwork from a copyright owner, I will do so immediately.

(Even if you live outside the US, if the copyright owner is a US resident or owns an international trademark, they can prosecute you for lost revenue or takedown.)

What is the Education Act?

According to the TEACH law:

(Video) Is FAN ART LEGAL to sell!? Ask Rick Hoeg - Legal talk for artists!

• Trainers or teachers can use a wider range of works in distance learning settings.

• Students can participate in distance learning sessions from virtually anywhere.

• Participants have greater freedom in storing, copying and digitizing materials.

Respond to requests from copyright and trademark owners

So when you receive a notice (not if, but when) to remove copyrighted or trademarked fan art, don't think you're too small to be sued or any smarter than a megacorp's lawyers. The effort against the request is not worth it.Just leave it.

How to legally sell fan art

There are a few things you can do to legally sell fan art and not break the law.

  1. You may obtain written permission or consent from the copyright owner. The chances of this being granted to a small operator are very slim.
  2. List your artwork for sale on a site like Redbubble, which has already set up the processes to collect royalties on your behalf from specific copyright owners.
  3. Or what I do – I sell fan art in such small numbers that I stay under the radar. 20 years later nobody came for money.
    • If so, find outhow to sell prints of your amazing workeSee if making an impression is worth it

If you want to learn what to do to get permission to sell fan art, read my other post which covers this topic in more detail -How to get permission to sell fan art

Are collages legal?

Since most collages are the collage of images or text from magazines or books, or even images by other artists, this too may fall under the watchful eye of someone intending to claim theft.In this post, I address the question – is collage art cool?

Continue reading

When you found the topicIt's cool to sell fan artinteresting, so I suggest you pick up a copy of„>“Beg Steal & Borrow“ von Robert Shore. It walks you through all the examples of artists borrowing from other artists, the technicalities of copyright law, fan art copyrights, and how to sell fan art.

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Yes they are. InnerSloth, who created the game Among Us, which uses Among Us characters for fan art, owns the copyright to Among Us characters. currently not allowFan art items to be sold, so be careful if you intend to sellAmong Us Merchandising Without Permission. If you are caught selling goods between us, you will receive a legal takedown notice.

Sim-OriginalPokémonSprites are just smaller versions of the same parent image they are based on.Pokémonis trademarked andCopyright ©Law internationally and in the US.

(Video) I Tried Selling Fan Art Online and THIS Happened

Yes, Nintendo characters are copyrighted, but they allow non-commercial uses of their characters for fan art. This was an odd question as it seems that Nintendo is really into fan art and doesn't actively track or enforce fan art takedown notices, even if you sell them. Although they pursue anyone who develops games based on Nintendo characters.

Yes, players own what are known as image rights, and while these rights are intended to prevent your likeness or likeness from being used in advertising or merchandise without your permission, they can extend to fan art. I highly doubt they would go after artists selling gamer fan art unless it was a large scale operation.

Joseph Colella is a frustrated artist with over 40 years of making art (working as a Certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of technology experience). Despite having a degree in Information Technology, he spent years trying to obtain various art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Naples) and failed to obtain a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) degree from the University of the West of Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from his full-time job. In his spare time he writes for this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he gives practical advice on art, art making and art supplies. Joseph's art has been sold to collectors around the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for arts and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about how to become a better artist.


How do I legally sell fan art? ›

The only approach to legally selling fan art is to obtain permission from the original artist. Some may use the Fair Use Doctrine as justification for the infringement.

What kind of fan art is legal? ›

Quick answer: While it is generally illegal to sell fan art, it may be OK to publish your fan art as long as you don't make money from it. Fan art, fan fiction, or any other creative work inspired by popular culture is a complex and controversial issue.

Can I use fan art without permission? ›

That the art is “fan art” does not free you of the need to get permission. In fact, if the art is a derivative work of someone else's work (such as a fan painting of a television show character), then you may need the permission of the copyright holder of the original work as well, to be using the fan art legally.

Can I be sued for fan art? ›

Where fan art is licensed from the original creator through a written licensing agreement, there are unlikely to be any legal issues if a licensee complies with the terms of a given license.

Can I draw a celebrity and sell it? ›

“An artist may make a work of art that includes a recognizable likeness of a person without her or his written consent and sell at least a limited number of copies thereof without violating” his or her right of publicity, the court found.

Can you get sued for selling fan art? ›

Technically speaking, there's nothing illegal in the US about making and selling fan art because copyright isn't enforced criminally. Rather, copyright owners enforce their rights by suing infringers in federal civil court. If they win, they could get money from you.

How can I legally own my art? ›

You have a copyright in your artwork as soon as it has been created and fixed in a tangible object. It does not need to be registered with the copyright office or have a copyright notice attached to receive copyright protection. A copyright lasts for the life of the artist, plus 70 years after the artist's death.

Can I draw a character and sell it? ›

One-of-a-kind, original drawings and paintings are legal. Since everyone does it, copyright holders must not care. If I only sell fan art at conventions, and not online or in stores, it is okay. If I'm not making a profit from my fan art, it is legal to draw someone else's characters.

Can I sell Disney fan art? ›

Fan art is absolutely okay to make and share. However, if you are drawing an almost exact replica of a Disney character, you cannot sell your fan art. There are no protections for selling fan art that is a near copy of a Disney character.

Who owns the copyright to fan art? ›

Generally, the right to reproduce and display pieces of artwork is controlled by the original author or artist under 17 U.S.C. § 106.

Can you sell fan art as commissions? ›

If you've been creating fanart purely for fun, you'll be thrilled to learn that you may now get paid for your work. There are several ways that you can make money from fanart commissions, such as by drawing fanart that people want.

Is fanfiction a copyright violation? ›

Going a bit further, it is also useful to note that copyright law extends to fanfiction authors. These creators own the copyright to the content they added to the original work, just as the commercially published authors continue to own the content they created.

Can you get in trouble for selling fan art on Etsy? ›

As a general rule, fan art is illegal to sell on Etsy or anywhere else if the seller doesn't have the proper legal permission from the copyright and trademark holders.

Can I draw Disney characters and sell them? ›

It is illegal to draw and sell Disney characters (in fact, it is illegal just to draw and give them away or display them publicly) without a license from The Walt Disney Company.

Can I paint a picture of someone famous and sell it? ›

And there is nothing you can do (other than obtaining written permission from the celebrities in the paintings) to eliminate the risk that you would be sued by the celebrities if you sell the paintings.”

Can I put a picture of a celebrity on a shirt and sell it? ›

It's generally not permissible to print celebrity images on merchandise without authorization to do so. Business owners who use celebrity images on T-shirts without permission are potentially setting themselves up for a legal battle that could lead to a big payout to the celebrities involved.

What should you avoid in an art portfolio? ›

3 Art Portfolio Mistakes to Avoid
  • These true case studies share some of the pitfalls artists experience when preparing a portfolio presentation.
  • Too Broad. An artist was choosing work from his portfolio to share. ...
  • Too Similar. Another artist worked in a very specific painting style. ...
  • Too Crowded.
Nov 29, 2016

Do I need to file taxes if I sell art? ›

When investors sell works of art, they are acquiring gains on their investments, similar to selling stock for a profit. As such, those sales are subject to the capital gains tax rate, which is 20% for taxpayers in the highest tax bracket.

Can you sell art that isn't yours? ›

It is illegal to sell, publicize and publish a copy of an artwork unless you have prior permission from the copyright owner. It is also illegal to publish and sell an artwork that's substantially similar to another original work of art.

Can I sell art from home? ›

Where to sell your art online: A standalone ecommerce site using an ecommerce platform like Shopify is a great place to start. Online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay can plug directly into your online store, allowing you to sync sales and reach wider audiences.

What is considered fair use? ›

For example, in the United States, copyright rights are limited by the doctrine of "fair use," under which certain uses of copyrighted material for, but not limited to, criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research may be considered fair.

Can you sell unlicensed merchandise? ›

Selling unlicensed merchandise is illegal. These companies change their IP addresses daily to avoid legal action.

Can I sell Winnie the Pooh images? ›

Public Domain

The public owns the work, not its creator, which essentially means people can do with it what they want. For example, they can write stories using the characters, they can make movies about them, they can paint pictures of them, and they can sell stuff they make using them.

Can I put fanart on a shirt? ›

If the “fan art” includes any depiction which inflicts on someone's copyright, or which inflicts on someone's trademark — then it is technically “illegal” in one sense: You can end up in civil court. You cannot just steal someone else's own intellectual property, and then try to profit from that theft.

Can I sell Mickey shaped items? ›

A lot of people believe it isn't an infringement issue to sell products that incorporate Disney characters or use a Disney character's name in their product name. However, any item being sold that incorporates Disney's copyrighted or trademarked material is illegal.

What are the different types of fan art? ›

Types of Fanart
  • Drawings and Paintings.
  • Photography.
  • Photo Manipulations.
  • 3D Art.
  • Crafts, Textiles, and Metal Smithing.
  • Sculpture.
  • ASCII Fanworks.
  • Fashion.

What are the most popular fan art subjects? ›

The most common Art Subjects are from animation (both North American cartoons and anime), since by nature animated characters are designed to be easy to draw. People with an interest in visual arts are also more likely to be animation fans than most others.

What is a fair price for an art commission? ›

On average, the price for a commissioned painting from an experienced artist starts at $100 and can go as high as $10,000. Generally, there are 4 simple guidelines to help you get a sense of how much you should be paying for you a personalized artwork by an artist.

Do art commissions count as income? ›

Do You Have to Pay Taxes If You Do Art Commissions? As long as you get money from the art commissions and you also earn a profit, you will have to pay taxes. Only when you are doing it as a hobby, without making any profits, can you get your tax money back.

How do small artists get commissions? ›

Reach out to local galleries.

Take the initiative and get in touch with local galleries to let them know you'd be interested in showing your work. The more you put your art out there, the better your chances of snagging a commission, so get in touch instead of waiting for art dealers to come to you.

Can you legally sell fan art on Etsy? ›

As a general rule, fan art is illegal to sell on Etsy or anywhere else if the seller doesn't have the proper legal permission from the copyright and trademark holders.

Is it legal to sell fan art as NFT? ›

In general, and without permission from the copyrigh owner, NO. You can make fan art, but you cannot display it or sell it. However, there are a few sites, like Redbubble, which have agreements with copyright holders enabling their artists to create work.

Can you sell Harry Potter inspired items? ›

If you list any Harry Potter inspired items, such as mugs with quotes from the movie or jewellery resembling their official collections, they will take them down shortly. Even if you don't use any of their trademarked terms in the title, bullet points, listing description or brand name.

Can you post fan art on social media? ›

Yes you can. The only exception is if you are drawing another artist's character that they own to sell on merchandise.

Can you get sued for selling NFT art? ›

Using intellectual property without the owner's permission is called IP infringement, and an NFT creator can be sued for that. Selling art using copyrighted characters is also an infringement unless you have the permission of the copyright owner.

Is it legal to sell fanart on redbubble? ›

Fan art is a little different. When you submit your work to the fan art program, you are using someone else's intellectual property, which they own, so you would need their permission to sell it on Redbubble.


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