Thanks to the efforts of artist communities and rights holders, fanart has gained more legitimacy over the years, and we’re starting to see initiatives that seek to benefit all parties.
In this post we’ll feature three sites that connect the legal representatives of big pop culture titles with indie artists who want to market their works of fanart. We’ll briefly explain how each system works, what to do and what to avoid. Since each site collaborates with different brands, we recommend you to check all the lists to find out if your works can be licensed.
Why should you license your fanart?
SUMMARY: licensing your fanart will grant you legal protection that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Fanart happens to exist in a rather sad and ironic legal situation. IP laws often contain exceptions to copyright that protect the right to freedom of expression. For example, they clearly protect parodies, which point out problematic or ridiculous aspects of other works. And it makes sense, since not many authors would give the necessary permissions to critics of their work.
But derivative art that doesn’t intend to criticize or parody, but rather share and sometimes reinterpret something else, isn’t granted the same type of protection. Even when the use of the artwork is non-profit.
Reconciling the interests of all parties involved is difficult. There is fanart of all qualities and for all tastes, for better and for worse. And there are artists who create works with intrinsic value, with their own style and original designs, but there are also those who simply stamp the faces of popular characters on t-shirts without paying royalties. And, if intentions are worth anything, it should be mentioned that among the former there are (as the name would imply) true fans. Artists who create these tributes not purely motivated by profit, but because they want to share their admiration for works that mean something to them, and who put real love in their designs.
It’s clear that many works of fanart compete in quality with the official material, and some brands have noticed this and started to take advantage of it.
General guidelines to license your fanart:
- Don’t send crossovers. Yes, it’s a shame, but licensing works that contain elements from different universes is complicated. Also, the style of a brand can clash with the style of others.
- Don’t send offensive or obscene material.
- Send original designs. That is: don’t plagiarize fanart made by other artists, don’t use screenshots, and don’t just copy-paste the brand’s logo.
- Don’t add your own characters.
- Don’t add personal information in the design.
- Always read the terms and conditions of both the platform and the brand.
Their partnership program includes a long list of brands, and they are always adding more. Right now you’ll find some big titles such as Rick & Morty, Over The Garden Wall, Steven Universe, or Star Trek!
Each brand has its own terms and conditions to approve the designs, and they specify tags that should appear on the product page. So for instance, Adventure Time will remind you that Finn’s robot arm is his right arm, and that Marceline’s marks go on the left side of her neck. Others like Dune will link to more extensive brand guides.
When submitting your design, make sure to use the necessary tags. This way, it’ll be sent to the rights holders for review. Until they approve it, the products won’t be available for purchase. It’s ok if your design gets rejected, your account won’t suffer any penalties. There could be consequences if the design infringed any of the platform guidelines though, but that’s another issue.
About royalties: RedBubble lets artists add a flexible percentage over the base price of each product (20% by default), which is the artist’s profit. This system works the same in licensed fanart products.
Redbubble acquired Teepublic in 2018, and so the partner program on this site works just like the previous one.
Many of the brands collaborating with RedBubble appear here again. You can find others that belong to NBCUniversal (NBCU Fan Art Terms and Conditions) such as Back to the Future, The Big Lebowski, Jurassic World, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. They used to have an active partnership with CBS, but they’re not accepting new design submissions at the moment.
Design By Hümans is another site collaborating with big brands. They make a clear distinction between original and official designs and what they call “Fan Shops”.
Some of the brands selling their products here accept designs from indie artists. You’ll find, among others, DC Comics, Assassin’s Creed, or Overcooked.
Each brand has its own page with terms and conditions, which details:
- Conditions to get designs approved.
- Artist royalties per type of product.
- Platfors where they’ll sell the designs.
The review process appears to take from 2 to 4 weeks as an average, after which, if your design gets approved, it will become available for purchase.