This is how fan art is sold legally and illegally (2023)

Are you a big fan of "fan art"? Ready to start making your own and sell them for a profit? If this is your business plan, you likely need a license from whoever owns the creative rights to the "IP," aka intellectual property.

The world of fan art can be murky and dark, and it's not always clear. Hopefully this article will point you in the right direction and shed some light on the sometimes abstract workings of copyright law and accepted customs.

You're probably thinking, "All these artists and vendors reselling fan artComic Con,Wonder-Con, the local art fair or even online may not have affiliations and licenses fromWunder,Outstanding,Disney, and the rest of the major IP holders.”

Well, you're probably right, and if the resemblance of the poster or artwork is easy to see, then you're probably dealing with a crime known as copyright infringement and it's time to call the copyright police.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer! First, I would like to inform you that I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

Just sharing my opinion and observations over the years when it comes to intellectual property and copyright, as well as some very informative YouTube videos of real lawyers explaining the mess.

I should also mention that NFT art has become extremely popular and various copyright issues are popping up.This article explains this situation in more detail.

So seize the opinions and consult an attorney if you dare to venture into the waters of fan art for profit.

The cool way to sell fan art

Suppose you want to start creating your version of aAlternative Filmplakatebased on Star Wars, Wonder Woman and Iron Man. You have your designs and artwork ready. Everything's printed and you've just reserved a booth at Comic-Con. Do you have a license? Or have you made amazing 3D renderings of your favorite superhero andDo you want to sell it as an NFT?

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

That's right; To legally make cheddar from your art, you need permission and a license agreement from the IP owner. In this example, that would be Disney, DC, and Marvel.

The license agreement should include your company's terms and conditions. Typically, you owe the IP holder a percentage of the profits.

Each deal is different with different terms and conditions. Some may charge money upfront before you even make a sale, and others may only take about 15% of the profit. You may have limits as to what you can produce. Almost everything is negotiable.

This is how fan art is sold legally and illegally (1)

How do I get a license?

You need to contact the IP holders. Chances are, if you're a small fish and want a license from a conglomerate, you won't get it.

I don't want to ruin their dreams, but do you think they'll spend their time negotiating a deal with you that could sell 25 posters? You make billions and you make hundreds. That hypothetical 15% you owe them isn't worth their time.

It's always worth a try, though, and some of the biggest movie studios, like Disney, have a dedicated licensing website. Cash:Disney Studio Licensing.

We went very deep with this article,How to get copyright permissions for your fan art movie posters, which became a very popular item.

And speaking of licensing, photography is a big topic. However, there are serious consequences for using unlicensed editorial images and photos in commercial artwork (movie posters).This linked article helps explain.


While researching this topic, I came across an amazing video on YouTube by a lawyer with a great knowledge of copyright law and how it applies to fan art.

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

His name isLior Leser, and he made a video called Is Fan Art Copyright Infringement or Fair Use? 5 Common Misconceptions About Fan Art Laws.”

Your misconceptions are perfect for this article as they are usually addressed by my friends when they decide to make fan art.

Mister. Lesor says he has 5 tips he's seen on the internet that are completely wrong. He believes that you need to be aware of this in order not to get into trouble. Here they are (paraphrased):

  • Fan art is original:Art fans assume that this is not an infringement as the art is original. He says that's wrong. If you don't have permission, it's a violation.
  • Noncommercial:Perhaps the fan artist is giving away their work for free, or just charging enough for the materials, or making a minimal profit. Well, Mr. Lesor says that this is all illegal and asks you to think about it. If you distribute an art representation based on copyrighted material, retract your sales. He goes on to say that this is not fair use and the distribution of artworks can be more destructive and harmful to the intellectual property owner than selling something for a profit.
  • It is transformative:Some people say fan art is transformative, so it's considered fair use. Not so much, says Mr. Landlord. He goes on to reiterate that the fan art only expands on the original characters. He then explains that transformative art is likely to be parody, commentary, or criticism.
  • Use only a little:Artist fans claim that they no longer have copyright infringement because they only use a small part of the character or setting. Mister. He clearly states that this is not a good defense.
  • No fan art lawsuits as I can get away with this:Artist fans will claim that's okay and they can get away with it, as certain intellectual property owners have not sued a fan artist for copyright infringement. Mister. Lesor says he's still breaking the law; However, sometimes companies see fan art as something positive and may not take legal action. Mister. Lesor says, "Just because someone isn't suing doesn't mean what you're doing doesn't mean copyright infringement."

Mister. Lesor ends his video by saying that there have been lawsuits against artists' fans and giving some examples. For example, Pokemon sued someone for throwing a Pokemon themed party! That's a little crazy, isn't it?

I highly recommend itwatch his videoand consult him if you need legal advice. He seems to know what he's talking about. Here's your email just in case:[email protected]

What does a copyright agent say?

Josh Wattles, Copyright Attorney atdeviant artHe gave an amazing talk on fan art and copyright at Comic-Con a few years ago. You might want to hear what he has to say as he was a former copyright agent for Paramount Pictures.

That said, he's dealt with real copyright infringement cases and sent out cease and desist letters.

He is also a professor of copyright at several California universities. He seems to know what's going on.

In his talk he mentions that authors and owners live in a symbiotic ecosystem with fans.However, owners and authors want to control their work and more importantly their money.

(Video) Should Fan Art Be Illegal?

It's a long conversation, but full of humor and insights that you'll probably find useful. Here are some topics.

Fan art for your portfolio

You need art for your portfolio and being inspired by movies, cartoons, video games and books is cool right? No, it is always said that this is copyright infringement. However, in the entertainment world, it has become an acceptable practice.

In essence, society has accepted it as acceptable even if it is against the law.

Side note: we should add that if you're looking to improve the way you create fan art, or if you're just starting out, this article is a must-read for you:

  • A beginner's guide to creating fan art
This is how fan art is sold legally and illegally (2)

What is copyright?

He wants us to know what copyright is. Here is the definition.

What is copyrighted?

  • Expression in each original work of authorship - graphics and characters as well as style, story, plot and themes.
  • Everything is copyrighted: public domain before 1923 (ask an expert about everything about it)

How long do copyrights last?

He says it's the author's life plus 70 years. For corporate works, if unpublished, they are valid for 120 years from creation, but if published, they are valid for 95 years from publication.

He says if you're interested in anything in the public domain, it's imperative that you speak to an attorney. This even applies to themCommercial Movie Poster Copyright.

transfer copyright?

Yes, copyright can be transferred. Think about it; Let's say you are the author of a superhero idea or story. Well, you can submit your story/idea to Disney and they become the copyright holders.

(Video) Selling Fan Art the LEGAL Way

Copyright agreements can also be negotiated and contain interesting and creative clauses.

Some conditions negotiated with copyright:

  • Exclusive right to: copy, distribute, derivative works

Be careful with brands too!

Mister. Wattles goes on to mention that trademarks are also protected. Some trademarks you may be familiar with include the Superman symbol or even the old-school coke bottle.

Some ways to infringe trademarks are commercial, confusing, or making fun of a trademark. Therefore, be careful not to infringe any trademarks.

How is fan art defended?

How would you defend your fanart? Well, Mr. Wattle discusses some of the more common defenses. That brings it:

  • Tacit consent: Mr. Wattle gives the example of an actor expressing his acceptance and admiration for fan art based on his character. This is technically implied consent.
  • Non-Commercial Use: In general, if you are not using the artwork or trademark commercially, you may have a defense.
  • Fair Use: This defense is too complicated! Questions like "How much of the work did you do?" "Was the use commercial?" "Is it only being shown as fan art?" Sir. Wattle uses an example of a Darth Maul painting that was once painted on canvas. He asks, “Will the Lucas Arts market be profoundly impacted by this artwork? Probably not. Some other seemingly acceptable uses of fair use are reviews, news, teaching, and even academic research. He goes on to say that knowing if you've crossed the line is a challenge!
  • The first change: This is the right to use cultural references and all kinds of language. He says analyzing free speech can come into play and how you use it. Basically, you should be able to sit down with someone and talk about the movie you just saw!

This is Mr Wattles' simplified and incomplete paraphrase and is therefore recommendedwatch full herelearn a little more about this topic. Watch to the end as there are some great questions from the audience which he answers.


If you are interested in creating fan art and selling it for a profit then you should really try to make a deal with the author/owner, especially if you dream of large scale commercial ventures.

You might also want to seek advice from a copyright attorney instead of reading an article on the internet. Just say!

If fan art is something you want to get good at, I recommend subscribing to our newsletterso you will be notified when our fan art course is available. It will take your art game to the next level!

(Video) Making Money with Fan Art

Until then, check out some of our free tutorials on ourYouTube channel hereand read these informative articles:

  • Digital designers and what they do
  • 5 free movie poster templates and dimensions


1. Fan Art Is Technically Illegal
2. Is Fan Art Copyright Infringement or Fair Use? 5 Common Fan Art Law Misconceptions.
(Lior Leser)
3. Is Drawing Fan Art Illegal? Let's talk about it as I Draw Live B-Roll
(Draw or Die Co. )
4. Is selling fan art illegal?
(Illusion Magazine)
5. Is it Illegal to Sell Fanart?
(Toni Conn)
6. The Pros and Cons of Selling Fanart || SPEEDPAINT + COMMENTARY
(Duchess Celestia)


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