Fan Art and Commissions – Legal or No?


One of the many ways that Illustrators supplement their income is to do commissions. The word commission in and of itself can mean any work that you take on for a fee. In this specific instance though we are generally speaking of work that you take on from a client that is for personal and not commercial purposes. This means that the client is looking at the work more as something to add to their personal collection (put on their wall) rather than publishing or reproducing in a commercial or publicly available format.

Commissions of this nature generally cater more to the clients favorite characters, ideas or scenarios.  Someone may ask you to draw Superman fighting Capt. America or Bilbo fighting Link from Legend of Zelda. This type of work is very common within the comic book /convention industry. At comic conventions you will often see artists drawing their renditions of a fans requested favorite character for a fee. The problem that can arise from this is that when characters are asked for that the artist or fan don’t own the copyright or trademark to you can run into some shaky water.

Image Pencils by SpiderGuile Inks by Wilson Williams, Jr.
all characters are owned by Marvel Entertainment

So if you are entertaining going into this aspect of illustration for additional income, I advise that you do your homework on the legalities of doing so. Even at conventions their is always the possibility of a being approached by the lawyer representing the copyright owner of a character you are selling. For your own safety approach every aspect of your work with as much knowledge as you possibly can.

As a starting point I ran across a great video that lays the groundwork for doing commissions and the legal and copyright issues that may arise. The video features Josh Wattles, a copyright expert and current professor and employee of DeviantArt. Enjoy his video where he goes over copyright and the implications it may bring.

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