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What a title, right? :)

Being involved in several fandoms, and wandering around the web over the last few years, I've seen more and more fan produced merchandise being offered for sale. Not only at conventions - like at art tables - but also on DA (Deviant Art) and on other websites.

It's not just doujinshis. It's pretty much everything from buttons to notebooks, from handy straps to figures and dolls.

Now, I *know* how the German license owners (the publishers, the film companies) react to that: they blow it out of the water. Massively. Except for the occasional doujin, you will *not* find a lot of fan produced items at a convention here in Germany. Because the license owners are keeping a sharp eye out and slapping people with C&Ds, as soon as they catch them.

But in the States I'm seeing a state of laissez faire, where that's concerned.

Which brings me back to the title of my post.

What about the ethics of the thing?

If I, as a fan, produce and sell something that is copyrighted to someone else, am I not stealing from them? And I'm not talking about the company that owns the licenses, but rather the artist, the writer, the person who came up with the original idea. Is my product hurting them?They're not getting anything off the product - I'm making the money.

And don't start with the argument that fan products "aren't made for profit". If you invest 0,05 cent in a button blank (and, of course, your drawing skill), a little bit of printer ink and paper (for printing out the button), and the little bit of time it takes to put the button together, and you then *sell* the button for, let's say $ 1, you've made a profit. Even if you've only sold one single button.

And of those $ 0,95 (or maybe a little less - you *do* have to count your time investment), *NONE* of it goes to the original artist. Or the company that has invested thousands of $$s to bring you the original product (series, movie etc.).


Is that right?
Is it ethical?

I know it's not really legal. I've read tons of articles on copyright and license ownership etc. I'm aware of the legalities.

But what I'm asking is: what about the moral of the thing?

I'm hoping for some insight from my flist here... :)

And yes, there *is* a reason I'm asking this...


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
I buy that kind of merchandise. I'd prefer to buy official merchandise, but it's usually not available when I'm actually interested in buying it. (I'm heavily into current anime airing in Japan, and the merchandise is usually out a year after I've moved on to the next new thing.)

I agree that it's supporting people who are profiting off the anime, but I think most Japanese companies look the other way because it doesn't affect DVD sales, where they make the real big money. They're way more interested in stopping bootlegs and fansubs. I don't feel like I'm taking money from the character designer on a series because they get paid a salary, which I'm sure is based on how well their anime does for the company making it. It's not like the character designers are publishing books of their creations. The creations belong to the companies they work for.

It doesn't bother me when I buy that stuff, because I know I have supported the Japanese anime industry by buying $$$$ worth of DVDs and official merchandise. I never buy bootlegs of official merchandise because that directly does impact the profits of a series.

This came up at Otakon a couple years ago. I think they decided that fanart comes under the heading of 'parody.'
Sep. 9th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
I buy that kind of merchandise. I'd prefer to buy official merchandise, but it's usually not available when I'm actually interested in buying it.

Same here. We rarely get official merchandise to current series here. And I'm sure that most of what's sold in the dealers' rooms at conventions *is* bootleg. Especially because the price is so low. I bought a pendant of Cloud Strife's First Tsurugi (his 6-part sword from Advent Children), and it only cost about $ 10. It's metal, quite solid, detail is ok, but there was no official stamp on the back of the package, and no Yen price (which tends to be a dead giveaway). If I could have bought this officially, I would have. But it doesn't exist.

I agree that it's supporting people who are profiting off the anime

I think that by now there are quite a few people out there that actually make a living with their "fan" products. - I'm not judging here, ok? I love buying fan art and fan doujinshis myself.

I think they decided that fanart comes under the heading of 'parody.' But what about fan crafts?

How much is still 'fan', and how much is real business after a while?

It doesn't bother me when I buy that stuff ^____^

Good to know... ^____^

Edited at 2009-09-09 12:48 pm (UTC)
Sep. 9th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
My primary fandom (transformers) is still growing, thriving, and evolving, with thousands of dollars worth of new product being offered each year. The coolest thing is, many former fan artists who have produced items that they have sold to fellow fans, have later been tapped and hired by the companies who own the works they are producing work for! With very rare exceptions, that has resulted in an improvement to the original products being offered to the rest of us fans.

No, this isn't a typical situation for most fandoms, but it is for this one, and it works. Additionally, the ORIGINAL designers for the original creators of the characters which the entire franchise was based off of aren't getting anything. Those Japanese engineers and artists get little more than fan accolades (and only die-hard, in-the-know fans who actually know which Japanese designer created their favorite charcters, IF you can track that information down to begin with) since the rights to their creations were sold off decades ago -- ultimately for a LOT less than they could have earned themselves if they'd kept those properties.

As for modern product and new designs... HasTak actually depend on the feedback their diehard fans give them in the form of direct C&C and in the form of trends in the fan markets. Transformers Animated? Was 90% fan service in one form or another. Fan service driven by those illegal (because technically they are) fan produced items, artworks, and fiction. It's *all* technically illegal, but HasTak tends to let a lot of it slide (and, in fact, Takara in Japan even offers one day licenses for fan produced items, if it passes their inspection criteria, so that those fan items can be produced and sold on a larger scale! They give an official nod to fan works!) because they get a lot of market research from the fandom, and because no one is making money off of their product hand-over-fist.

Granted, this is all for a living, evolving fandom, which has a bit different dynamic than a static fandom like Gundam Wing. (No new shows and very little new product, thus little room for market expansion)

There's another way to look at it, too. What about the secondary market? Sure, that official model kit *did* generate profit for the parent company when it was originally sold for retail fifteen years ago... but what about now when it is being sold for ten, twenty, a hundred times retail? The parent company isn't seeing a *dime* of that profit, nor are the creators and designers and artists! How is that more fair than a small time fan artist potentially bringing in new fans to the fandom as a whole by offering product that has not been offered in an official capacity?

In short, no, it's not legal, however, for the most part, I have no serious objections with derivative works, nor qualms about purchasing them myself. That is, however, a *generalization*; I feel the subject really should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In those fandoms where derivative works are detrimental to the whole property, yes, I feel they should be policed heavily and cracked down on. However, those properties where derivative work actually draws in a larger audience and is ultimately beneficial to the property? I feel that getting that original creator/designer an extra hundred items' worth of royalties from official product sale outweighs the loss of $0.90 worth of profit they see nothing of from that fan-produced button.
Sep. 9th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your great post! I'm not into the Transformers fandom, so I wasn't aware of the dynamics between the fans and the company. That sounds more like a dream, than reality. ^^

One day licenses? What a great idea! Maybe I should pitch that to some of the companies here...

I also never thought about the re-sale aspect of official merchandise. You're right, of course. Once that product has been sold to the first customer, the producer or license holder no longer gets anything off it. Like the Yamane mangas currently being sold on Ebay. Who knows how many times some of them have been sold and resold, to make money off them. And no part of those sales goes back to either the publisher or the creator.

And you're also undoubtably right when you say that fan-produced works bring in new fans. I didn't get into some of my fandoms until I saw fan-works (art or fiction) on the net. *Then* I went out and bought the DVD or the manga.

Thank you. You've given me much to think about.
Sep. 10th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
The best I can work out the ethics is this... if I went and asked the owners of GW if they were ok with it, would they say 'Sure!' if not, then... yeah... probably not so ethical. *snort*
Obviously, I've spent my fair share on some of that fan produced stuff, so equally obvious I'm not going to get on some soap box and rant about how it's 'Wrong!!' or anything, but...
At the same time, I have to stop and think how I'd feel if I ran across somebody making and selling 'Thought Hamsters' or something.
So I spends my money, but I have to confess to a twinge of guilt now and again. >_>
Sep. 10th, 2009 10:15 am (UTC)
The best I can work out the ethics is this... if I went and asked the owners of GW if they were ok with it, would they say 'Sure!' if not, then... yeah... probably not so ethical

Well, that's the problem, isn't it. I'm sure they wouldn't agree - though I like the idea of the one-day license that Ravynfire mentioned - because they want to sell their own merchandise, right?

At the same time, I have to stop and think how I'd feel if I ran across somebody making and selling 'Thought Hamsters' or something. Yes, just that. So. Would you let that person earn money - maybe even a living - selling products based on your idea? Or would you try to slam them down?

That's the part that I'm fighting with (internally that is) right now.

That guilt twinge... yes. That's the rub...
Sep. 10th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
Would I slam them down? Arrgh. I really don't know what I would do. If I stumbled across somebody using ideas that were very specifically mine, to make a profit for themselves, without asking... I know I would be pissed. I would probably ask them to please don't do that. But hell... could I REALLY make them stop? I don't even know. O.o
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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