PHXCCC: Fan Art, Fair Use and Copyrights

Saturday, June 4th 10:-11:30AM


Geek lawyer Ruth Carter discusses how copyright law intersects with fan art and fan fiction. Find out what you can legally do and what is likely to result in a cease and desist letter or lawsuit.


  • Ruth Carter


This was one amazing panel. Ruth Carter is a lawyer who comes to conventions to speak about copyright, fair use and potential of problems. 

Her number one answer for problems that come up with comics and geeky cases is, " It depends." Why? Because when it comes to the law and who is at fault it really does become a case by case issue. First disclaimer: this is my recounting of the panel and all legal advice should go through the proper channels, with that being said here is what I picked up.

When it comes to COPYRIGHT you have the ability to protect and control the following:

  • Display (Comic images and cover)
  • Distribute (Issues, books, movie, etc.)
  • Perform (Dance, Play, Musical)
  • Derivative works (This is the grey area) (EX. Stars wars has copyright on Posters, Bikinis, deathstar cupcake mold).

Copyrights last for the lifetime of the author/creator plus 70 years or if its an LLC its 120 years from date of creation.

The rest of the panel dealt with Fair Use. If you are an artist who makes prints of already owned IP you might be protected under fair use or you could be walking on thin ice but with fair use of creations there is no black and white. 

Ruth uses the acronym PAIN for ways to find out if you are under fair use.

  • P- Purpose and character of your use.
  • A- Amount of the original used. ( is it a shot for shot copy?)
  • I- Impact on the market ( would someone seeking out the original take yours as an equal subsitute?)
  • N- Nature  of the work (What did you copy)

For something to be considered protected under fair use it must be unique enough and transformative. By transformative I mean it has to be, lets say, an oil painting set in the victorian era of a cartoon. Something that is not in the original format of the IP. Also parody falls into fair use but satire doesn't automatically.

This was just a splash into copyright/r fair use and I highly recommend you check out the rest of Ruth Carter's work as well as contact someone for proper legal counsel if you have real concerns.

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