Nerd Caliber
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August 3, 2012

The Intersection of Cosplay and Copyright Law

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Copyright is one of those subjects like taxes, buying a car, and whether you have to let a police officer search your Transformer costume: they’re all topics we should learn growing up. Instead we had to suffer through 3 years of Algebra none of us have used once. With the expansion and growth of media content online throughout the world, copyright is becoming a topic of utmost importance. This article is in response to a recent incident over a Facebook fan page that posted “hot” cosplay photos and got some controversy over doing so. I am not writing this to take sides, I am writing this to educate and explain the U.S. copyright laws (most Western countries are the same but for our Asgardian subscribers please check with your local deities) that are in place to protect content creators.

The official United States copyright website will provide you all with months of reading so I expect you to read every page twice at http://www.copyright.gov. OK, joke is over but as you can see from the website things get very lengthy so I’m here to sum things up. Before that I must recommend to every artist, writer, producer, photographer, etc. two fabulous books (please use the Nerd Caliber Amazon links so we can get filthy rich off your purchases and buy more Pocky for Emmanuel’s Pocky addiction). My first and favorite read is a short comic-book style layout called Bound by Law. It puts everything into simple, easy to understand concepts. The second book is a bit longer but it has been voted one of the best must-have books for content creators, Legal Guide for the Visual Artist. Let’s begin our lesson.

Copyright is there to protect you, the creator of original content, and grant the creator exclusive rights, usually for a limited period of time. The biggest change of recent time that has impacted U.S copyright law has been the 1976 Copyright Act. The Act took effect in 1978 and basically made it so you don’t need to have everything you create have a © symbol, because the moment it is created the work is protected. Secondly, the copyright of the work is protected for 70 years after the creator’s death and then it is considered Public Domain. Third, there is the Fair Use portion of the act which; “Under sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Note that along with fair use there is sensible use, you cannot distribute and copy anime DVDs and then claim you are “educating” people about how you feel the Japanese version of Dragonball Z® is far better than the American dubbed versions (I agree the Japanese is way better).

So we have the law and know who owns the rights but now what? How do we apply this to someone who makes a fan site or page and then has dozens of people upset because their pictures are on it? We’ll start with the notion of how just because a creator or company has the copyright to specific content doesn’t mean they want to prevent you from copying it, again they have the rights that is all the law says so therefore it’s up to them if they take action against a party for taking their content. Two great examples of this are Canon and Blizzard. Some people have called Canon an unreasonable bully when it comes to taking down fan sites and hunting down anyone and everyone who uses their logos without written consent. Read all about it here, http://blog.kareldonk.com/canon-tries-to-take-down-canonfilmmakers-com-website/.

But on the other hand, you have companies like Blizzard who actually help fans create their own fan sites for their game World of Warcraft, http://worldofwarcraft.filefront.com/file/Fansite_Kit;42980. That’s right, Blizzard created their own kits of logos and content to give away. They own the copyright they can do what they want with it. It is interesting to ponder some free market philosophy in all of this and how companies and people consider how reasonable they should or should not be. After reading those two examples, doesn’t it give most of you a negative feeling towards Canon and a positive one towards Blizzard? So while you might be a photographer or artist and you do have the full exclusive rights to your work, if you decide to hunt down every person who posts your photo or picture in a blog and forum it will have a “public relations” effect.

When someone makes a fan site or page it is technically copyright infringement, but it is up to the owners of the copyrighted material to take action. U.S. Copyright Law is one of the few pieces of legislation we have that seems to follow a lot of reasonable common sense, crazy huh?! It is always changing as you can read the latest amendments and portions on the official site, http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/. Use that same common sense when assessing if someone has created a fan site of your work; does it harm you commercially? Does it promote you in a good way? But here are some important notes as well, if you have a picture of yourself in cosplay outfit you don’t own the rights to the photo, the photographer does. Often times the photographer will have a model sign a release form and allows the model to show and add the photos to his or her portfolio, but not sell and distribute them, the photographer has that right. Even if you crop out and edit a photo’s watermark it is still an infringement and a judge will laugh at you.

In the case of conventions, it is often specified under the convention agreement when you purchase a ticket that this is a public event and you may incidentally be in photo or video. Basically, if you cosplay at a convention and want every person with a camera to whip out a release form before they take a snapshot, you’re not going to have anyone take your picture and you will be most likely kicked out of the convention for being completely unreasonable and void of all common sense. So how come companies like DC and Marvel don’t go after cosplayers? Again, this is common sense on their part, you aren’t causing them any financial harm and in fact to them they see you all as promoting their characters. Besides, could you imagine how fast these companies would collapse if they stopped cosplayers from dressing up?!

I hope you are learning stuff! I know it can be very complex but it could be worse, we could be talking about taxes and this article would be 9000 pages long! Anyways, here’s my two cents; ask and use common sense, then give credit where credit is due and if you try to make money from someone else’s work then you better be prepared for the lawsuit. You are not the one who is giving privilege to expose an artist or model, it is a privilege for you to be allowed to display a photographer’s or artist’s work. Anyone can make a fan site but not everyone can be a creator, so  be nice and ask before you post because without their content there is no page for you. 99% of the time everyone is cool with you posting their work so long as you ask first – not after.

If you can’t find the photographer or original content creator, ask the model or host instead but you should be prepared to take it down if the creator does get in contact with you and asks for you to remove it. It was disappointing to witness some of the comments made by both sides on the cosplay fan site I read and showed an utmost lack of professionalism and respect by everyone. I know I sound like your dad, but always ask before posting, don’t post then wait for them to ask you to take it down, and last is don’t flip out and resort to death threats because someone has a photo of you on their Facebook page that has 192 Likes. Successful sites and businesses follow common sense and abide by copyright law; douchebags and immaturity aren’t found in successful enterprises.

Before I sign off on this there is just one more thing I want to add and for creators to all remember; copyright is to protect you and the original works you create. There are numerous incidents where large companies will threaten and coerce creators to remove works when they have in fact violated no copyright, often times due to lack of education about their rights the creators will comply and give in to the demands to remove the work. Review the links I’ve posted in this article as well as the link below from Copyright.com, an excellent resource. Know your rights, it is well worth it!

http://www.copyright.com/Services/copyrightoncampus/basics/law.html



About the Author

David Palmacci
Besides being a great artist, graphic designer, videographer and writer, David Palmacci is a scoundrel of the highest order. Every hope the human race had to redeem itself died when Dave chose to pick up a pen and started writing.




 
 

 
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2 Comments


  1. Just wanted to thank you- as a cosplayer and a law student- for posting this article. I know a LOT of people tend to get confused about copyright infringement in cosplay, fanart, etc. I think this was easy to read and will help clear things up for others.


    • David Palmacci

      Thanks Kris! As an artist myself I found it to be very important to study copyright law, I think artists who don’t bother to take the hour of time to read the basics of the law and their rights at some point wind up having it come back to haunt them. I had a friend who was clueless on copyright infringement, he put up a bunch of t-shirts to sell online with Chuck Norris & Dane Cook quotes on them. About a week after he had them up he got cease and desist letters from both parties telling him to take them down. I wish more people would consider copyright law if they want to go to law school.



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