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Art Archive Copyrighted Material in Artwork - Where Do Artists Stand?

Discussion in 'Fan Art' started by HanSolo29, Jun 29, 2009.

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  1. HanSolo29 Manager Emeritus + Official Star Wars Artist

    Member Since:
    Apr 13, 2001
    star 6
    I feel this is an important topic for any artist to discuss - professional or amateur. There are a lot of legal issues out there to keep in mind and as an artist making a living through selling our artwork, where do we draw the line? What is acceptable and what will bring us into a load of trouble?

    Being a Star Wars board, where do we stand with Lucasfilm and are we allowed to sell artwork featuring Star Wars characters? I know I've seen plenty of artists selling sketch cards and other paintings on eBay featuring things from Star Wars who are not officially recognized by Lucasfilm. Should they be getting away with this? Where do we draw the line?

    I would like to hear your input. :)
  2. underthekitchensink Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Hi, hansolo29 kindly started this thread for me as i had posted the following on another less appropriate board -


    Just looking for a bit of advice.
    I have a website where i show and sell my artwork which includes paintings of some star wars characters.
    I received a cease and desist notice email from Lucas Films about my work last week giving me untill Friday to remove then all.

    Does anyone know where i stand with this as i never thought selling a few paintings and prints would get this response.

    I will be pretty gutted if i have to remove all my work.

    Can Lucas Film really do this??

    This is the page with the star wars stuff -

    http://www.underthekitchensink.com/htm%20files/star%20wars%20page/star%20wars.htm

    i could post the content of the email if you think that would help and not get me in any more bother?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

    Thanks

    Andy
  3. jacemathem Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 5
    Have you ever sought out getting a license from Lucasfilm to sell your artwork?
  4. Iverna Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 20, 2008
    star 4
    Interesting topic... thanks for bringing it up!

    As far as I know, you automatically have the copyright to everything you draw, write, create in any way. The problem with fan art is that it's not your original stuff, so it's considered a derivative work, meaning the copyright stays with the original creator (in this case, Lucasfilm). So technically, making fan art, fan fiction, whatever, might be considered illegal. BUT. I think that generally, it's fine--you don't own the copyright, but Lucasfilm won't say anything, partially because it's decided on an individual basis by a court.

    But you're making money off it, and that's the problem. Since Lucasfilm own the copyright and your work is derivative, you should be paying them royalties, or buying licensing off them, or whatever. DeviantArt won't let you sell prints of fan art because it's legally problematic. If you're creating derivative work (ie fan art) for non-commercial or even educational purposes, a court might well rule in your favour, but if you're selling it, they probably wouldn't. Lucasfilm generally seem to tolerate fan-produced stuff because it encourages interest in Star Wars which is good for business, but if they've sent you a cease-and-desist letter, I'd obey them. They can file a lawsuit, a pretty solid one, and they can take you to court.

    I think a big part of your problem is that you're selling prints--t-shirts and the like--so that's mass-produced stuff for profit. They might be more tolerant of you just selling originals; companies will often let people get away with that. But reproductions, even if it's of your own fan art, are very problematic simply because that has far more potential to turn into a real business.

    So that's the official line: put simply, it's illegal to make a profit with derivative works. That's in the U.S., though, I don't know what the laws are like in Europe. But since Lucasfilm is a U.S.-American company, it may not matter either way.

    As for my opinion--well, I guess I can see where they're coming from. If I were a published writer, for example, I wouldn't want people to be making money off fan fiction of my work either, you know? Personally, I've never sold fan art, but that's mostly because I want to keep it for myself. People are selling fan art all over the place, and in the case of Star Wars where the "hurt" party is George "Let's release a new DVD version to make MORE money" Lucas, I don't see the harm and I'd never condemn anyone for selling their work without permission. How much money is he losing by it, and how much more is he making thanks to fans who exchange ideas and are creative with his universe?

    No, that reasoning won't stand up in court. That's just my personal moral compass, I guess. I think that selling fan art is far less of a moral faux-pas than, say, downloading Star Wars films or books or games for free.

    Dunno where I draw the line. I guess in the case of Lucasfilm, I really don't feel sympathy for them. They make enough money as it is. If the person whose copyright is being violated is a small-time artist, writer etc struggling to get by, then I'm absolutely against it because it's just mean. I guess like the courts, I decide on a case-by-case basis.

    In this case, my advice to you is, cease and desist. You probably don't want to be taken to court by Lucasfilm. Wish I could tell you better news, but as far as I can tell, they really do have a case. You might be able to keep your SW art up on your site, but since they're onto you, I'd ask.
  5. underthekitchensink Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Very much you guys taking all the time to write up such a helpful reply and im sure it will be very useful for other artists who are in my position!

    I think i will have to send them an email as i would like to keep my work there for my portfolio and then maybe try and submit work to ACME etc

    Anyone any idea how i should word this? :S
  6. Iverna Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 20, 2008
    star 4
    I'd just politely explain that you will stop selling your fan art, and emphasise that you are not going to be selling any more prints, t-shirts etc especially. And that you are willing to remove everything completely from the public, but ask them if perhaps they wouldn't mind if you continued displaying it, to share your art with other fans--for entertainment and enjoyment, not for profit in any way. Just explain that you would like to continue showing your fan art as part of your portfolio, maybe since you want to display your artistic influences (popular culture) or something. Just be sure to show them that you're sorry, you didn't realise, you're willing to cooperate with them, and ask politely if they'd mind you keeping your art online for others to enjoy as part of your portfolio.

    That may get them off your back. I'd just try to be as polite and nice as I can, not to kiss their ass or anything, but simply because in this situation they do have the upper hand.

    I hope that helps. Good luck!
  7. underthekitchensink Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Thanks very much for the advice Iverna and everyone else!!
    Going to start writing up a response.. arrgh
  8. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    I am grateful that you started this thread, dear Han.

    And I am so sorry that you, poor underthekitchensink, got yourself into trouble by doing what you are gorgeous at: fanart.

    And I am grateful that Iverna did explain matters so good and brilliant.

    I hope for all of us that we never get into trouble with our fanart. GL is the very man who invented merchandise ages ago and makes a lot of money with it still.

    As for my humble fanart pieces and graphic novels: I give them for free to dear friends and aquantances here on the boards. They are meant as presents for special occasions or just a sign of friendship.

    It would never come into my mind to make money with it. I am a teacher of my own German motherlanguage in a land far, far away. As happy as I would be about some extra money, for a beginning teacher does not earn much in the Netherlands and is also not always appreciated for being German, it is not worth the trouble.

    So, I hope, dear underthekitchensink, you can jump off the hook again. All the best.
  9. jacemathem Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 3, 2003
    star 5
    Try to pursue an artistic license from LFL and maybe you can still sell prints.
  10. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    Och, that would be too much fuzz. See, I need my fanart in order to cope with my constant stress level as a teacher. And when I give art pieces away as presents I make people smiley. What more should I hope for?
  11. TheOnlyJediPrincess Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 11, 2006
    star 3
    this is a great discussion!

    one thing that has always got me wondering about the legality issue is at conventions. there are a lot of people who sell there fan art in the Artist Ally, Professionals and Amateurs. Are those legal to sell in the artist ally or not? Would that fall in the buying a license to sell the prints? any enlightenment would be great. one thing I have been told is, it's ok to sell as long as it is not labeled as the copyrighted character. have I been miss informed?
  12. kikichan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    May 31, 2009
    star 1
    I sell print at conventions, it works like this
    you have a temporary license to sell for the convention only when you are there
    lots of people sell fanarts on the internet without license, they don't get caught if the profits too little. For example, artists sell fancomics online,but for about 12p.
    I think the big companies do't mind the fanart sold if the artist don't make a big profit. It help to interest in the series, and the money isn't much lost.

    If you have cease and desist you should STOP. It's illegal. Some people don't get caught and it maybe isn't fair,but don't argue with it, this looks uncooperative.
  13. TheOnlyJediPrincess Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 11, 2006
    star 3
    this may be kind of a dumb question but, how would one obtain a license?
  14. AzureAngel2 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 14, 2005
    star 6
    I consider this to be a very clever question and also would not mind if any prices for those licences are told as well. And what exactly such a license does anable you to do.
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