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Is selling fanart 3D models for 3D printing illegal?

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Ninb polycounter lvl 5
Pretty much the question above, copyright laws are very complicated and the more research I do the more confused I get. Say I made a sword or a gun based on a design from a game, and I wanna sell that, is it illegal to do so?
I don't wanna get into any trouble when it comes to copyrights so please let me know if anyone faced something like this before. 
Thanks in advance.  

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  • Blond
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    Blond polycounter lvl 5
    It's another one of those grey area I guess.  Say for example, you were selling a 3D printed model of Ryu from Street Fighter you 3D modeled yourself;
    My guess is that it's probably illegal but then again so is selling any fan art of Ryu, may it be posters, fan animations and such...

    Yet during conventions and on art site, tons of artist sells those things and never get sued for it so I guess big companies might not care as much as you think.

    Just try to keep  certain level of secrecy while youre doing it.
  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool
    Cover your bases! mitigate any potential risk by seeking professional legal advice, which some time ago saved me a ton of money.
  • kanga
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    kanga polycounter
    Yeah it's illegal. It's only a problem if the company goes after you. Most likely you'd first get a cease and desist notice which would instruct you to pull all the models from the web and stop selling them. If it wasn't a problem GTA wouldn't invest so much time, effort and money in coming up with no name models. On the other hand there is a guy who does nothing but make copies of planes, jets and boats 24/7 to sell online.
  • RS7
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    RS7 polycounter lvl 2
    Yes, it is illegal. Even selling 2D fanart is illegal. If the character has recognizable features, then you are using copyrighted material.
    It's like covering songs. As long as you don't ask mone for it, it's usually tolerated, but as soon as you are reconding an album with the cover on it and you make some money out of it, then there's a good chance the copyright owner comes after you.

    But there's a question.. what if you are making a steampunk themed spiderman? Is that fanart or original design?
  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    RS7 said:


    But there's a question.. what if you are making a steampunk themed spiderman? Is that fanart or original design?

    As soon as you put Spiderman in there you are using copyrighted material. Again ILLEGAL. Fan art just as a reproduction making a copy for personal usage is not an issue. Making money with it is.

    But going into details here will be pointless when it comes to where there is a line to be drawn. This depends on the laws of individual countries where the potential infringement is committed and no one will be able to give you a definitive answer, as its most often the result of cases.

    But the simple rule of a thumb is: If your selling point is based on some elses work, you are definitely infringing copyrights. Fan art isn't at all a grey zone to earn money. Personal usage, things used in teaching, parodies, news,... might be allowed even without explicit permission of the license holder/copyright owner (you have to check with your local laws), but never making money out of it. It should be obvious.
  • RS7
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    RS7 polycounter lvl 2
    Biomag said:
    But going into details here will be pointless when it comes to where there is a line to be drawn.

    I think that's the most important point of them all. Where you draw the line?  Most of the copyright infringement cases come to this point, either somebody has crossed the line or not and where is the line.
    Over the years i've seen many artists claim their right over some design they think it's theirs, but in fact... in some cases it just looks like a generic superhero design of just another scifi weapon that has been seen thousands of times before. I dare you to come up with one single example in creative field when you can honestly say that this piece is absolutley original and it can not compare to anything that has been created before. No such thing, i'm afraid. Everything is a copy of a copy of a... Mix and match.
    It is just the fine line that separates one being a rippoff. Ant this is the point where you ger yourself a legal case.

    It was few weeks ago, when one very well known concept artist claimed that one big animation studio has used his work without his
    premission and he did not receive any credit, no money, noth'n. I looked at this case and in my opinion there was some of significant similarities between two characters, but in fact, this work was not very original. I think i have seen these kind of little fluffy big floppy-eared creatures about million times in pinterest/artstation/in almost every cartoony character concept portfolio etc.. So, who has the right to claim the copyrights in here? That's what you get when you influence your work by Milt Kahl or other golden era Disney masters. You might get very similar results from Kahl-admiring artists, who read the same brief. That's why big studios use bunch of different artists for their early concepting phase to get variance and different results, instead of using only those artists who pulls their inspiration from the same source. If you don't get variations, that's a big problem when developing an original IP.

    I think we all agree, that making and selling Spiderman with the red-blue suit is copyright infringement for sure. And taking already existing concept and reselling it in any form is forbidden. (i also mentioned this above). Obvious thing is obvious. But what if you design something that remotley looks like Marvel's Spiderman, and you give your character some other name and redesign he's appearance. I mean.. all superhero characters are basically the same. There are very few variations in this pattern. And there's finite numbers of designs out there, especially when it comes to the "mainstream" AAA game aesthetics.

    I've been talking about this subject (copyright, stock material usage etc) many times with my lawyer friends and they all basically say the same, that it depends on the case. Which means, as long as you don't have case in your hand, then you are fine for the time being : )
    You should use common sense to avoid risks.


  • ZacD
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    ZacD interpolator
    Biomag said:

    As soon as you put Spiderman in there you are using copyrighted material. Again ILLEGAL. Fan art just as a reproduction making a copy for personal usage is not an issue. Making money with it is.

    But going into details here will be pointless when it comes to where there is a line to be drawn. This depends on the laws of individual countries where the potential infringement is committed and no one will be able to give you a definitive answer, as its most often the result of cases.

    But the simple rule of a thumb is: If your selling point is based on some elses work, you are definitely infringing copyrights. Fan art isn't at all a grey zone to earn money. Personal usage, things used in teaching, parodies, news,... might be allowed even without explicit permission of the license holder/copyright owner (you have to check with your local laws), but never making money out of it. It should be obvious.

    Is taking commissions to make a piece of fan art illegal? I've always assumed the commissioner is responsible for copyright issues, not the commissioned. I guess you could state that in a commission contract. Gets really weird legally when someone gets commissioned to make cosplay for someone else. 

    And there IS fair use, there's a point where fan art could cross over to parody or actually transformative, like recreating classic art works using comic book characters. But if you are stepping on the toes of what (for example Marvel) are selling, such as toys, figures, posters, comics, games, etc, you're MUCH more likely to get sued. 
  • Ninb
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    Ninb polycounter lvl 5
    So if you make a model based on Spiderman and changed his name to something else, that way you avoid the copyrighted name but you pretty much stole the design..or can you can't actually get away with it?
    it's a grey area if u can change the name and call it a day...
  • RS7
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    RS7 polycounter lvl 2
    Ninb said:
    Say I made a sword or a gun based on a design from a game
    I also wanted to add that word "based" is pretty important in here. Is it an exact copy of a design or is it influenced or midly referenced?
    If you google fantasy sword design, then you find almost all of these designs pretty much identical. Just a counted number of variations. If you mix two or three existing sword designs to one design, then it looks like you get totally "new" generic fanasy sword design and you might even get away with it. Just stay away from branded marks like logos etc.  (do not take it as a legal advice).
    There are just couple of iconic and truly original weapon desings out there. Most of the fantasy MMORPG swords are just jibberish and heavily cross influenced anyways.
  • Ninb
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    Ninb polycounter lvl 5
    RS7 said:
    Ninb said:
    Say I made a sword or a gun based on a design from a game
    I also wanted to add that word "based" is pretty important in here. Is it an exact copy of a design or is it influenced or midly referenced?
    If you google fantasy sword design, then you find almost all of these designs pretty much identical. Just a counted number of variations. If you mix two or three existing sword designs to one design, then it looks like you get totally "new" generic fanasy sword design and you might even get away with it. (do not take it as a legal advice).
    well let's say the whole thing is like 99% the same and only one face is wider, bigger, smaller. is it still gonna be copyrighted? logically it would be but you're not making their design 100% in a way 
  • RS7
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    RS7 polycounter lvl 2
    Ninb said:
    well let's say the whole thing is like 99% the same and only one face is wider, bigger, smaller. is it still gonna be copyrighted? logically it would be but you're not making their design 100% in a way 
    In this case, i'm afraid you are not able fo fly under the radar. It is way too close of an copy. You should not do it. Not just from the legal standpoint, but this is unethical as well. : )
  • Ninb
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    Ninb polycounter lvl 5
    RS7 said:
    Ninb said:
    well let's say the whole thing is like 99% the same and only one face is wider, bigger, smaller. is it still gonna be copyrighted? logically it would be but you're not making their design 100% in a way 
    In this case, i'm afraid you are not able fo fly under the radar. It is way too close of an copy. You should not do it. Not just from the legal standpoint, but this is unethical as well. : )
    Never did and never will haha
    it just surprises me that you see models on Cgtrader and turbosquid that are all copyrighted materials yet they sell it like it's nothing and get away with it
  • RS7
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    RS7 polycounter lvl 2
    Ninb said:
    it just surprises me that you see models on Cgtrader and turbosquid that are all copyrighted materials yet they sell it like it's nothing and get away with it
    They don't get away with it. It's just sloppy job and inefficient filtering process from the company's side. That is actually very problematic topic. People are just ripping actual assets from the game and sell these without doing any modeling work what so ever. If you do come across of such an example, you should repot these assets, if possible. If Cgtrader (or any other stock site) is not willing to pull these off, they are breaking the law as well, not just the uploader. It just needs one big case to get these gray areas sorted out and all those stock resellers would be forced to invest a little money into their filtering process. It's not that they "get away" with it, it's just little unattended matter at the moment. Certainly, there's pretty solid legal case boiling in there.
    And this case would be very interesting to read.
  • Ninb
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    Ninb polycounter lvl 5
    It stops being fan-art when you try to sell it. At that point it stops being commentary or "fair use" and it becomes a for-profit endeavor, which becomes infinity more complicated because you're selling Intellectual Property that you don't own. 

    The reason your fan art gets notice is because someone else invested in building up those characters. If you're work would sell without them, then sell it without them.

    Get their permission, pay for licensing OR... build up your own characters, your own lore and sell what you legally own. If you choose to ride on the coat tails of others, they will shake you off.

    Just as if someone tried take characters that you created and sell them, you would have a right to stop them. Just because the internet is flooded full of people that seem to be getting away with it, that doesn't mean its legal and that they won't come after you. They might have bigger fish to deal with but they'll get around to smacking you down eventually.
    100% true
  • Zack Maxwell
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    Zack Maxwell interpolator
    I think a while back Turbosquid got targeted for lawsuits because they were selling models of cars and guns that were replicas of real, copyrighted products.
    I may not be remembering that 100% correctly, but I'm quite certain stuff like that is illegal. 
  • Jonas Ronnegard
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    Jonas Ronnegard Polycount Sponsor
    Yeah I think it's more black then grey, especially if you are talking about selling prints/3D prints, something that is probably also sold by the copyright holder of those designs.

    Although there is a big chance you could probably go through your whole career without problems if you keep it small, it's really not worth all the stress it will cause you, having that in the back of your head all the time, and at the same time also not being able to grow your business since that would mean larger risk of getting caught. So yeah keep it as white as you can and you will have an overall better life.
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor insane polycounter
    If you can't beat them, join them.

    In other words, if you are making fan art good enough that people are buying it, maybe you should apply to work at the studios who own these IP's. Then you can make what you love ethically and legally.
  • Biomag
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    Biomag polycounter
    Just to get some more things out there to make you understand key things:

    1. There isn't an universial worldwide copyright law. There are multilateral agreements and such things, but not an unified version. So sitting the USA or China or European countries or Russia means you are facing probably a different legal system. This esepcially means that cases you heard about in other countries would not have necessarily the same result in yours.

    2. The law that gets applied on a case is based on where the infringement is happening - so for all of those who are breaking copyrights on the internet - you might get issues in any country with access to the site - and yes, this means the copyright owner might even have the possibility to sue you in several places at once if there aren't any multilateral argeements that prevent it.

    3. Don't mix fair use with companies not sueing individuals. It might be they don't know about the infringement or it doesn't pay off to go to court, but this doesn't make other infringments legal. Usually companies don't go after fan art to some degree, which might include comissions as long as we are talking on a small scale (we had these discussion why companies might not care about these things) - and yet again if it happens without a permission you might still get sued if the copyright owner wants it.

    4. Having a contract forcing one side to be held accountable to provide the licences doesn't protect you from being sued by the copyright owner. Its just a contract between two parties that ensure you can afterwards sue for damages (=results from being sued for the infringment). Which can end up with you having to pay the copyright owner and your partner being broke so you end up with nothing...


    These are the reasons why I don't see a point in discussing details and I've been only scratching the surface of these - its pointless as you need to go to a specialized lawyer. Nobody here will be able to give you a straight answer to cover all bases. Besides national laws there are also previous cases to consider to see how the courts have applied the regulations to better understand the gray area. If you are not dealing with this on a regular bases you most likely won't have the experience/knowledge to give a meaningful estimation for a case that really fits the questionable area. On the other hand most examples here are definitely breaking most common copyright rules, so there is that.
  • Ninb
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    Ninb polycounter lvl 5
    Thanks everyone for your answers!!
  • Eric Chadwick
  • HorribleJohn
    Thus, if I understood everything correctly, 3D printing of this model (which is publicly available) for personal use is legal, but for sale it is illegal. And that's only if I get caught. But how can "they" catch me if I have a small store and do not publish advertising via Internet?
  • RaptorCWS
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    RaptorCWS polycounter lvl 7
    Thus, if I understood everything correctly, 3D printing of this model (which is publicly available) for personal use is legal, but for sale it is illegal. And that's only if I get caught. But how can "they" catch me if I have a small store and do not publish advertising via Internet?
    Things aren't legal/ illegal depending  on if you get caught. Stealing a car is still stealing regardless if you get away with it.  If you want to sell a 3d print of something make your own model based on Intellectual Property you own or get a license to sell it from the IP's owner. How they will catch you? one of their lawyers happen to run a google search on their IP, someone asking the IP holder if this is legitimate. etc.
  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool

    Thus, if I understood everything correctly, 3D printing of this model (which is publicly available) for personal use is legal, but for sale it is illegal. And that's only if I get caught. But how can "they" catch me if I have a small store and do not publish advertising via Internet?

    ...all righty then, probably covered by CC (Creative Commons) licencing but whether licence type is either BY or SA *shrugs*

    And careful there fella! karma can be an absolute bitch if it aint... 

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