What's the deal with 'fan art,' legally speaking?

Science fiction conventions often feature an art show, in which both professional and amateur artists can display and sell their works. A lot of amateur artists are fond of depicting characters out of popular culture, especially movies and TV-- Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Joss Whedon etc.

Perhaps conventions may not be the best guide for scrupulous adherence to legal niceties (I’ve heard rumors that at some conventions it’s possible to find bootleg copies of movies for sale). However, this sort of fan art is also present on internet art sites like DeviantArt, which I believe has a feature enabling subscribers to sell prints of their work (I may be wrong about this).

How does this work? If I were to embark on a new and exciting career drawing nothing but pictures of Mr. Spock, how long would it be until Paramount sends their goons out to break my thumbs?

Easy - hardly anyone makes enough profit. Those people with tables at cons? They are paying anywhere from around $30 to hundreds of dollars for that table. Factor in most people have travel costs to get there, and need to buy their materials (which aren’t cheap - a full pack of Copic markers, the Holy Grail for anime fanartists, can go for $100-$200). Most people just break even, or have a little extra cash to pick up something at the con. Nothing more than a kid can make mowing a lawn.

Take a look at dA’s prints prices - DeviantArt . The best fanartists that make the most money are often the ones that are the most professional and do the most work - again, supplies aren’t cheap.

So, in the end, you’d likely have to have a contract with a publisher to make enough money and get enough attention that the copyright holder would want to seek you out.

As an aside, there’s a thriving underground subculture in Japan that makes fancomics of anime and manga. A few times a year a giant market/convention is opened for these artists to sell their works. Imagine the most popular sci-fi con you can think of in America and double or triple the attendance. Yep - and the copyright holders turn their heads. Why? It’s free publicity, and often people get into a new series by noticing a favorite artist is doing a fancomic of it. Plus the main goal is not to make money, but to share love for a series, and they just hope to recoup their printing costs.

Never. When CBS and Viacom split, CBS ended up with the television branch- including the rights to Star Trek.

I heard a story this fall on NPR about the shadow industry of fan-Manga. Think fanfic, but of popular manga. The books generates an enormous amount of money in sales (millions of dollars annually), but the amount earned by any one of these amateur artists is quite small, and they have apparently come to a quiet understanding with the publishers, who have realized (a) fighting them all would be expensive and difficult (b) this community is fueling further interest in their own titles © they’re actually getting some future manga-ka from this talent pool.

A similar case in the US: Marvel/DC/etc. comic book artists—who do not own the rights to their characters—are allowed to sell drawings of those characters to make some money on the side (or after they retire).

The issue is one of trademarks: if you’re using a trademarked character (and Star Trek, Star Wars, and superheroes are trademarked) it is a potential violation if you make a drawing of one.

However, it’s not usually worth the trademark holder’s while to go after amateurs doing drawings of Mr. Spock. Generally, they turn a blind eye unless you are manufacturing something with the image (Superman lunch boxes, for instance). If they notice, they’ll send a sternly worded letter and probably do nothing else; it isn’t worth a court case to shut down $50 worth of drawings. Especially if the judge rules that they have lost trademark. Marvel would have a heart attack if some court said the trademark to Spider-Man had lapsed.

kushiel is right – while are shows can bring in some income, it’s the pro artists who make money (but not all that much). The amateur artists at a con are usually fans who would attend anyway, and who buy space in the art show and hope to break even. (Most convention art shows charge a hanging fee and take a cut of sales).

A lot depends on the company. Paramount is pretty ‘nice’ at letting fans do things. Disney is the opposite.

Usually, a producer would only come off looking like a huge jerk and potentially turn fans off the show.

There was actually an interesting article about this in the latest issue of Wired magazine. It also mentions the thriving market of fansubs of Japanese anime for the US market, which is tolerated as it allows the publishers to gauge potential interest levels for a particular anime.

Pretty much what everybody else said – the copyright holders generally turn a blind eye to all but the most egregious cases (industrial-scale bootlegging or particularly salacious porn) because it’s too expensive (both directly and in terms of bad PR) to go after.

It also depends on the content. Disney has no problems with this site, as long as the…um…more provocative works don’t appear there.

There are provocative *Rescue Rangers * works?

My sweet God.

You nave no idea. :wink:
Yes, I’ve seen some. Not quite my cup of tea.

Two chipmunks, one cup? :smiley:

Kim Possible art has been known…

I know someone who started out doing (and selling) fan art, then got noticed by Lucasfilm, and was hired by them to create art for their Star Wars Kids line, and continues to work with licensed properties for Topps Trading Cards. I don’t think there’s ever been much of an issue with fan art.

However, fan fiction seems to be a more contentious fellow.

I write fanfiction. FWIW, we are required to post a disclaimer along the lines of “I don’t own this, didn’t invent these characters, am not making any money, etc. etc.” I’m not sure how it works for those who actually are making money, though.

Actually, that’s one I haven’t seen. :slight_smile:

They all seem to center around Gadget.

Ugh, I have that issue. I was not impressed at all. We know CLAMP is aware of the existence of doujinshi, so please don’t shove Tomoyo/Sakura yuri doujinshi at them. Pink approached the article like a fan, and in doing so, broke one of the hidden rules. Don’t show the porn to people involved. There was a kerfluffle a few years back where some fans actually showed the actors who played Merry and Pippin from LotR a photomanipulation of them having sex. Someone took photos, and the looks on their faces…ugh. I’m an advocate of keeping fanworks underground.

What usually happens is people who try to get fanfic published do it through vanity presses or Lulu.com, someone from fandom_wank finds out, people get together and mock the idiot who tried to get their fic published and life goes on. Although all bets are off when it’s a Western kids show and smut is written. Don’t ask me how Gregory Maguire gets Wicked legitimized though.

Because the Wizard of Oz characters are in the public domain. As long as it’s not the versions depicted in the film, anyone can use them.