There's a range of opinions on whether artists should create fan art and the ethics of doing so. One might make fan art as a genuine expression of their fandom, as an opportunity to gain exposure for their art, to make money, or some mixture of all three motivations. I'm not looking to judge someone's choice in creating fan art, but from a strictly creative business stand-point, if you're making the majority of your sell-able artwork around intellectual properties that you don't own, this seems like tenuous footing for an artist to be in. Selling fan art's illegal and this isn't just some opinion I happen to hold, this is straight from the mouth of contract and intellectual property attorney acquaintance, Seth Polansky.
Watch Fan Art Illegal?! | Things to Consider When You Make Fan Art
Luckily few intellectual property holders crack-down on fan artists selling their work, but that's precisely the issue: if you make your living selling fan art based merchandise- you're relying on "luck" for your continued livelihood. I lurk an artist alley Facebook page and I've seen the occasional so-and-so animation studio's issuing take-down notices. And a take-down notice or a cease and desist form is a kind way for the copyright holders to go about it- who knows if we'll see an effort to slap-down this form of infringement in the same way that the music industry came down on some of those pirating music in the early to mid 2000's to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
EXCERPT ON FAN ART USAGE PER COPYRIGHT ATTORNEY SETH POLANSKY ON ONE FANTASTIC WEEK
With the risks that are stake, I simply couldn't see putting all of my eggs in the fan art basket. I may occasionally do a fan art piece if the mood strikes me, but I definitely intend to make that the exception rather than the rule. What's your opinion on fan art? Do these considerations make you any less likely to make it?
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