How to Get Permission to Sell Fan Art

How to Get Permission to Sell Fan Art

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In another article of mine titled “WTF. Is it Legal To Sell Fan Art? How To Sell Fan Art Legally“, I spoke about the legality of selling fan art and touched upon the subject on how to actually sell fan art legally. This post extends that article by answering the question “How to get permission to sell fan art” once you know that there are instances where you legally can sell it if you get the right permissions.

The main way to get permission to sell fan art is to obtain a license from the copyright holder.

For most artists who create fan art and do not expect to have the volumes of sales to support the cost of a license there is also the option of paying royalties through a site such as

redbubble has a few agreements in place with copyright owners and have taken the steps to arrange for royalties to be paid to many copyright owners on your behalf.

These royalties will be paid to the copyright owners whenever a sale is made on their site.

Read on as we cover How to Get a License, What is Fan Art, Can I Distribute Fan Art for Free and more.

What is fan art?

Fan Art - Photo by BP Miller
Fan Art – Photo by BP Miller

Creating Fan Art is a popular activity followed by many artistic fans around the world.

It usually involves an independent, often amateur, artist creating creative pieces that are based on copyrighted characters found in popular books, comics, TV, and movies.

We take a look at the issues of fan art copyright and the lack of permission to sell fan art and hopefully point you in the right direction so that you get permission to sell fan art legally.

I see so much fan art online

Browse the Internet, and you will see large volumes of fan art openly on sale.

It appears that many artists get away with it blatantly. In fact, many are hit by legal instructions issued by the copyright holders, like Disney and Marvel, and forced to remove the items from the sale.

Others deal with specialist offshore hosting companies that ignore copyright notices and do not disclose who is behind the website.

We see it not only with art but also with toys, fashion items and electronics.

Need some Fan Art Ideas? I have the perfect Hacks and a listing from A-Z

This link Fan Art Ideas Hacks with awesome examples from A to Z will take you to another article where I describe in detail how I find unique fan art ideas.

What does the law say?

Rob Girkin Law Books
Law Books – Photo by Rob Girkin (

Moving on to copyright laws, we enter a complex world that seems to depend on the whims of individual judges, who often contradict other judges.

We also find ourselves in an international arena where laws are different in almost every country.

This confusion is despite there being a variety of international treaties that they signed. These agreements include;

· The (WIPO) Copyright Treaty

· The Universal-Copyright-Convention

· The WIPO Performances/Phonograms Treaty

· The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IPR

Can I distribute my fan art free?

You have more chance of being left alone by copyright holders if you start distributing your fan art for free, without too much fanfare.

Doing it on a non-profit basis, many copyright holders will not be too concerned. One or two actively encourage it.

However, it is entirely within the legal rights of any copyright holder to request you stop.

Some specific individuals show no mercy and hit the artist fast and hard for the slightest copyright infringement.

Typically, you will get a request to remove the items, and if you comply, then that will be it.

You will hear no more. However, copyright holders can demand payment.

What is Fair Use?

In countries with a British legal history, including the USA, there is a concept called “FAIR USE.”

This concept allows copyright to be infringed in certain circumstances, and this will depend on the following:

· Purpose and character of the use

· Nature of the copyrighted piece

· The amount used

· What effect has it had on the original piece

· Some extra factors.

Fair use is a defense against a copyright claim and will be decided in court, and this is where different judges are more lenient than others.

So even though you may think it is fair use, you might still lose the case, and of course, end up with a lot of legal fees.

Can I sell my fan art?

If you start selling work that infringes copyright, there is much more likely that you will be pulled up by the copyright holder than if you are giving it away.

Can I get my fan art licensed?

Now this is where we start to answer the question of how to get permission to sell fan art. It comes down to licensing, but it’s not as simple as I had hoped.

Technically the correct way of legally selling your fan art is to get it licensed by the copyright holder.

This process will result in the copyright holder making a small royalty on every product that you sell.

The trouble is that the copyright holder usually has no interest in going to the trouble of entering legal agreements with some small independent artist.

The reason is that small independent artists will only make them a small amount of money and they are not usually worth the effort.

They also would worry that your item would bring the original character into disrepute or could involve them in some legal dispute in the future.

For the relatively small amount of money and the legal costs and time involved in licensing, it is not seen as worth their while.

If you were going to be selling over 10,000 items, then perhaps they might consider it.

You would also be liable for upfront fees, and if you did get the license and then failed to make enough sales, it could cost you a lot of money.

From both sides, a small licensing deal does not make a lot of sense.

By the time you have finished paying lawyers and paid upfront fees to the copyright holder, it is unlikely to make a lot of financial sense.

How do I get a license?

You are convinced that you are going to sell at least ten thousand items, and you understand the risks, but you still and to go ahead and get a license.

How do you do it?

  1. The first thing you should do is get in contact with the licensing department of the organization. This move should be made before you even make fan art. Otherwise, you are creating something illegal.
  2. You have no idea how much this will cost as there are no set rules on prices. The copyright organization can ask whatever they like for a license. For any well-known brand, this is probably going to be well over $100,000. Remember, you pay this fee before you make the artwork you want to sell.
  3. Nintendo, for example, has a standard response to requests for licenses. It goes along the lines of “Thanks for asking, but the answer is no. We receive thousands of requests and do not have enough staff to deal with it, so our policy is no permission granted.” Mostly larger companies, if they identify the potential for an item related to the copyright will pursue it themselves or seek a company to make it for them, on their terms.
  4. Some companies have a web page that advises on licensing their products. In the case of Walt Disney, it is Marvel also has a page: . To check other companies, google _“[COMPANY NAME] LICENSING.” _Typically, these websites will refer you to an individual with whom you can make your request.

There is one way you can sell fan art with no worries

As you can see, it is pretty hopeless for the small fan artist to sell his/her work if it is in the fan art category.

Even if you try to do the right thing and get a license, you will probably fail. It looks pretty hopeless.

However, if you move to just one of three countries in the world.

These countries are Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and San Marino.

In these countries, they are NOT SIGNATORIES OF INTERNATIONAL TREATIES and have no copyright law, so you can do whatever you want, as long as you create your work there and sell within those three markets.


As you can see, you can legally get permission to sell fan art and it involves licensing. The issue is are you big enough with deep enough pockets to warrant licensing?

If the answer is most likely no, then I would recommend selling your fan art via a website that has agreements to legally sell fan art.

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Joe Colella - Chief Wasted Talent
Joe Colella – Chief Wasted Talent

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