Fan Art Law

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Fan Art Law

Mon Sep 10, 2012 by techgnotic


t seems there’s nothing quite as dear to the hearts of many of our deviants as their production of fan art, and at the same time, there is nothing so knotted with legal and ethical headaches. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the form of fan art it has also become one of the most frustratingly complicated. At some point, the sheer volume of fan art around a single property may become so large that the issue rises to another level of scrutiny by the creators of the original work.

With this dynamic in mind, we thought the following panel that Josh Wattles, our Advisor In Chief here at deviantART, and a mystery guest named Harold Smith, gave at Comic Con this year might be of immense help in understanding the ever evolving elements of fan art law.

Josh Wattles, makepictures is an expert on copyright law bringing perspective and experience to the issue from multiple creative industries. From art, film, music, and books, Josh has been directly involved in or advised on copyright issues for the biggest properties in the world. He is also a copyright professor teaching courses at at Loyola, Southwestern and the University of Southern California law schools in Los Angeles.

And for all of you Star Trek Fans out there, Josh was the first lawyer at Paramount Pictures to work with Gene Roddenberry on creating policy around the massive quantities of fan fiction submitted to Gene and to the studio some of which ended up as Star Trek stories published by Simon and Shuster.

Video by: toddgrossman & scottpagano

Interview withJosh Wattles

Should I worry about drawing or writing stories about characters from my favorite books, TV shows and movies?

makepictures:Not if it is a private activity.

Does whether I sell them or not make a difference?

makepictures:Yes. It’s not the best idea.

Can I copyright my own fan art which is based on already copyrighted material?

makepictures:It depends on how much of the original work you used and if the original work can be completely removed from the second work. When you file for a copyright you must disclose all pre-existing content that does not belong to you and you must have authority to use it. That’s a complicated question with fan art.

Different authors, artists and companies seem to have different attitudes about fan art, with some encouraging it and others forbidding it.  How can I find out which entities I might get in trouble with and who’s completely cool?

makepictures:You can’t unless you contact the owners yourself and ask. There are some situations that are ok because the owner is encouraging fan art, such as in contests.

Is there a list or index?


Am I responsible for other people circulating my fan art all over the Internet without my express approval or even my knowledge they’re doing it?

makepictures:Technically, maybe.

Are there websites I should familiarize myself with that explain how to stay “safe” within the bounds of “legal” fan art creation?



How do you feel when creating a piece of fan art or fan fiction around your favorite character or story?   

Is fan art a pathway in your evolution as an artist?

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FartingBoy's avatar
*goes immediately to Nintendo's website to ask if they would be okay with me doing SourceFilmmaker animations*