Fan Art and Copyright
Was wondering if anyone could clear this up for me. I love producing fan art but always believed (even if it's an original interpretation) that selling it would breach the copyright of the creators, animation and distribution companies who owned it.
Yet here I find a site where artists sell their fan art printed onto all manner of things.
http://www.redbubble.com/shop/anime (this is not the only site doing this by the way, just the biggest)
I was thinking of joining as an artist but I'm sure this is illegal, some of the items come across as parody so I can understand that being sold but there are many logos, designs and images taken and largely unaltered from their source anime and manga.
I went to my first convention last summer and there were TONS of people selling fan art. I'm talking like a hundred tables of people making $15-$25 off of JUST PRINTS of famous anime characters. They were just ordinary people either in college/university or working minimum wage jobs, so I doubt they ALL got permission from the original character creators. And if they were breaking some sort of law, Anime Revolution sure didn't raise any flags about it, and they're a legit company.
This is a fascinating legal gray area which is rife with legal debate. I recommend reading some of Corey Doctrow's takes on this stuff - he is ver pro fan-work, while recognizing the importance of creators to profit from their own work. I highly recommend [http://craphound.com/news/2014/09/08/information-doesnt-want-to-be-free/Information Doesn't Want To Be Free](http://craphound.com/news/2014/09/08/information-doesnt-want-to-be-free/Information Doesn't Want To Be Free) as an excellent educational primer on this (and related) topics.
Here's my ethical position on the issue:
You're selling a fanart, and a customer is looking to buy it. Why are they buying it? Is it because of your work, or because of the work of the people who actually created the character? If you changed your drawing of Hatsune Miku so that it was no longer recognizable as Miku, would you still be able to sell as much of it?
If the draw of the product is the character created by another artist, that's an ethical issue. Draw the fanart, post it online for free, share it with other fans, inspiration all around, but don't profit off of it. I don't care how much you think the artist that drew your favorite manga must be some big corporate fat cat because their work is in book stores. a) They're not - most mangaka, light novel writers, etc. are overworked and underpaid, not to mention animators, and b) Even if they were, that's really beside the point.
The legal issue shouldn't be your concern. Your concern should be the issue of respect for the artist. If the individual artist says it's okay to sell it, that's their prerogative, but I find it disrespectful to profit off of others' work. Not to mention the people in the artist alley or on that site trying to sell work that isn't connected to some big anime everyone already knows.
Ideally, there should be some setup where creators can sign up to approve fanmade products and receive a cut of the profits. I think a few series have done t-shirt contests like this. When I publish something I'll probably arrange things like this if I manage to get a fanbase for my work.