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Everything you need to know about US Copyright update, plus some straight talk about fan art

By Jim Pavelec | 17/03/2015
Everything you need to know about US Copyright update, plus some straight talk about fan art

by Jim Pavelec

After posting our copyright article on the website the other week, I was contacted by a copyright attorney who wanted to clarify a few things to help make the article as comprehensive as possible. I wanted to share his thoughts with you so that we are supplying our readers with the best possible information.

First, as soon as you finish a piece of artwork, it is copyrighted. It is your creation. You own the rights to the image. BUT, if someone infringes on that copyright, it is now your legal burden to prove that the image is yours. If you have to go to court to do so, all of the legal costs are on you. IF you registered the image with the government and someone infringes on the copyright, all of the legal costs are then shifted to the entity that illegally used your image. Registering a copyright is simply legal proof that the image is yours.

In the simplest language possible, if you DO NOT register for a copyright of your art, and someone uses it illegally, even if you win in court you are still responsible for all of your court costs. If YOU DO register the copyright and win, the guilty party is responsible for your legal costs.

Also, when you make a work public, you have three months of full copyright protection before you need to register it.

Finally, you can register multiple images for a bulk rate of $55.

One factual correction to the article, in the Bratz/Mattel case, the court originally ruled in favor of Mattel, but that decision was overturned in the appeals process, and Mattel had to return everything to Bratz.


I’d like to touch on this topic briefly because there is quite a bit of misinformation among artists about it.

If you are set up in a comic con artist alley, and are selling prints of Spider-Man, The Flash, He-Man, or whoever, you are in violation of the law. You are making money off of copyrighted characters owned by large companies. The reason nothing is done about it, is because it’s really too petty of an issue for the big companies to get involved with. Plus, you are bringing more attention to their characters, so it’s kind of a wash for the companies.

Also, and this is the one that has bothered me for some time, if you are selling an original oil or acrylic painting of those same characters, YOU ARE STILL IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW. There has always been this weird notion out there that if it’s a painting it’s somehow different, and is not illegal. WRONG. Again, these companies aren’t going to track you down because it’s not worth their effort, but you are still in the wrong, according to the letter of the law.

This is not a judgement on people doing fan art, it’s simply a statement of the legal facts of the situation.


Jim Pavelec

Jim is the driving force behind PACT. As a freelance veteran of fifteen years, Jim heard countless tales of woe from his colleagues. Because of this he decided to create a website that would be a one stop informational resource for freelance illustrators, and provide them with a place that they could rate the companies that they have worked for. Along with his co-founders, the idea of the website was presented at the Illuxcon convention in 2012. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so they worked together to lay the groundwork for the website, and run the Indiegogo campaign that raised the seed money for the website. This website is the result of all of their hard work. With the support of the freelance community, it will help to lead freelance illustration out of the current rut it is stuck in.

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