You’ve just finished watching the Star Wars saga for the 3rd time this year already. Nothing in this universe is anything less than amazing between an epic battle of Jedi and Sith, aerial spectacles of clashing X-Wings and Ti-Fighters, and of course, the cute Ewoks and interesting Jawa pests. In the midst of this excitement, you decide to unleash your creative force and forge an awesome knitted hat with the Rebel symbol on the front, because Rebel Crochette is obviously epic. But why stop there? You could totally sell these and make bank! Welcome to the ever-growing world of Fandom Creations.
Fandoms, a slang term for the fan-base behind any given movie, series, comic, etc, have odly been ground zero for a pandemic of copyright law violation. Remember just a second ago when you were about to knit that awesome crochet Rebel Alliance hat? Yeah, thats why. These communities of driven fans have given life a black market of unofficial merchandise to anything you could imagine. From Star Trek and Star Wars to lesser known series such as Firefly or even My Little Pony (which is a whole separate blog post). Although online venues for these shops are required to take action when a shop is flagged for having copyrighted material for sale, they are not obligated actively find them. The shear massive number of the shops make this option nearly infeasible and this underground fandom thriving. But that doesn’t mean shops dont get taken down.
One instance of this is from Etsy, where user Annikarrot on her shop Meltology, where she features works created in the interesting medium of melted crayons.
Etsy.com/shop/Meltology is where to find her unique work.
“I love video games, and others do as well, so why not share that love for these games?”
This is the thoughts of many people, including Annikarrot. Unfortunately, Lionsgate, Valve, and Namco did not find this argument solid enough to keep from taking down these products from her Etsy store due to copyright violation. She took to Reddit where she asked fellow Redditors for advice on what to do, link below, where the overwhelming majority of users suggested simply avoiding movies, shows, etc, which she did and hasn’t had another item taken down since.
But a quick search on the popular site will show a large number of infringements to these exact companies, so the question is, why are these allowed to stay up and how does a large company find such a small store and decide to take singular action? On another store in the Etsy universe, we have a story of the more sinister behind-the-scenes look of being a store on the internet.
…and keep your enemies closer.
An article from Beth Picard of Handmadeology shows how, in her words, ignorance is no excuse.
Link to the full article below.
“I have had things removed from my Etsy shop and found out that ignorance is no excuse. I had no copyrighted images, but, I had “school spirit” papers which were in collegiate school colors and in each set I had ONE sheet that had wording on it- like “Roll Tide”, “Go Tigers”, Go Bulldogs”, you get the picture- NO mascots, NO logos, nothing that I thought would be copyright infringement… Guess what, the Collegiate Licensing Company owns the words “Roll Tide” and even “Go Tigers”… I fought them for three months because Etsy is full of people selling copyright infringement images of the mascots, logos and everything else- so why was I targeted?
This is why. [Copyright holders] don’t come looking for you. Someone on Etsy, your competition… turns you into the company that owns the rights to the images or copyrights. They don’t turn you into Etsy, Etsy doesn’t care, if they did there wouldn’t be one Disney or Pixar or the million other things that are blatant copyright infringement. The companies DO care, but they aren’t pouring over Etsy looking either… Someone HAS to report you to them for them to act on it.”
She has had another instance dealing with a vector tractor she had taken down since John Deer has the rights to green tractors with yellow wheels. But like she said, you have to be reported to get caught. But it isn’t illegal unless you get caught, right? No, the one person that said YEAH, no…it’s not right. Just because your shop isn’t being actively taken down, doesn’t mean your content is in the clear of infringement and, if anything, it sets you up for further failure, as in the case of Shepard Fairey.
This case started from the popular “Hope” poster which depicted a stylized Barack Obama with the word “Hope” underneath the portrait. Ultimately, AP realized the poster was derived from a photograph one of their photographers had taken, and it was unlicensed. Fairey ended the case with 300 hours of community service, $25,000 fine and a negotiated deal to work with AP furthering this series with more pictures from AP.
Fair use lies in a large grey area up for interpretation via this set of “rules”. Here is one of those interpretations.
Full article linked below.
“…a loophole in copyright law known as fair use allows some interpretation on copyrighted works. According to Rebecca Tushnet, professor of law at Georgetown University, fair use provides some leeway for fan art. Fair use allows the reproduction of protected works in cases of criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, research, and other purposes. In a court of law, judges decide whether a piece is considered “transformative”—if it’s distinguishable from the original piece and adds artistic value or commentary.”
In the end, I think you should pass on that awesome crochet hat you were going to make. Create another design and do that instead, or mix multiple ideas and create your own concept. Either way, fan art and the laws of copyright are very…very blurry with each decision in court being a coin toss. So my advice is to be smart, stay creative, and keep yourself out of these sort of situations.