View Full Version : Question on private commissions depicting copyright works

02-21-2011, 12:19 PM
I was contacted to do a private commission that is a poster of a campaign world. This is, however, a published campaign, not a private one.

In essence, the individual wants me to take a set of connected maps, and redraw them all in a certain style as one map. This would, of course, also include all the place names from the original campaign.

Any idea on the legality of this?

My initial thought is that it is no different than an artist commissioned to paint reproductions of a Disney castle and princesses in a little girl's bedroom. Something that is done all the time, AFAIK. BUT A digital work is a bit different.

My second thought is that many individuals create "fan art" based on existing franchises. The difference here is that I am doing it as a commission, not self-authored fan art.

Anyone have thoughts on this, or been in a similar situation?

-Rob A>

02-21-2011, 12:23 PM
I actually had the same question a while back. My Kingdom of Shendenflar campaign setting is set in the World Of Greyhawk which is of course a Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro product. After some research and e-mailing I discovered that as long as I don't try to make any money off of it I'm not breaking any laws.

02-21-2011, 12:53 PM
Please don't rely on what I'm about to say without getting proper legal advice, but fwiw, I think that (assuming a standard kitchen sink copyright notice with the product and standard western copyright laws):

-If you are reproducing maps for sale which can be identified as having come from that campaign world, then that it probably actionable.
-Whether the copyright holder chooses to take action in your case (a one-off) is another matter entirely. It's not as if what you are doing hurts their sales (in fact if anything it probably helps them unless they provide a bespoke map art service).

So my view is that it is probably an actionable breach of copyright (derivation/reproduction) but the copyright holder is very unlikely to enforce. You may wish to write to them but that could be a poisoned chalice, since the copyright holder might feel bound to say 'no' so it does not dilute it's overt position, when privately it would do nothing if you went ahead and made the map anyway without asking for permission (since it could then say that it didn't know about your map even if it did).

As I see it, even fan art (done for nothing) can be a breach of copyright. It's just that most (sensible) copyright holders like game companies see this as good advertising and don't want to alienate their fan base - so they don't enforce but just stay quiet about it rather than giving outright permission.

These are just my lay views, I'd be interested to see what others have to say!

02-21-2011, 01:30 PM
The map is for private use, right? I see nothing wrong with it. But I'm also not a lawyer, shrug. I'd do it.

02-21-2011, 01:45 PM
I suppose there is a faint chance that the person asking for the commission might start selling your map on the internet which might pique the copyright holder's interest, but that's got to be a pretty long shot.

02-21-2011, 02:19 PM
The real difference is I would actually be making money off it - namely the commission. If I was making it for my own personal use, I'd have no concerns, hence the question.

Still appreciate other's thoughts on this...

-Rob A>

02-21-2011, 02:22 PM
I don't think anything would happen from it - there is a saying in danish which translates to "its easier to beg for forgiveness than get permission" (it sounds better in danish). However, to be sure that it is only for personal use you might get the client to sign a contract saying so (or at least confirm via email) ... or maybe you could actually print a poster for him with the map - that way he won't get the files.
As long as its not for mass reproduction I think your safe. Most companies ignore fan-art ... Star Trek hunted fan pages on the internet some years ago throwing lawyer letters about, but it went away. It just showed their lack of understanding the web.

02-21-2011, 02:35 PM
Whether or not you make money out of it has very little to do with whether it's a breach of copyright (the act of the reproduction is the breach), but it does have a lot to do with whether the the copyright holder will hunt you down. If you make a small (in their terms) one-off commission for a piece of fan art, they're hardly likely to see it as a threat.

Tilt: we have the same expression in English too!

02-21-2011, 03:39 PM
I agree with Ravs. I wouldn't do it unless I knew the client personally. I also agree that its probably safe tho. I do this me-dem thing. Were making a big map of middle earth - copyright and owned by Tolkiens estate but were doing it as a free thing. I don't know if they could show damages since we haven't caused any financial loss to anyone. But yeah its still copyright.

Somebody mentioned Disney but they are known for doing small people. There was a cake maker doing disney cakes for birthdays would was asked to stop. Dunno whether she was fined about it tho.

02-21-2011, 04:23 PM
I do some custom token work, some of it is based off existing illustrations, and lately more popular Pathfinder characters have been asked for. These characters are very recognizable, even from the top down style I use.
However I see it as along the lines of the Fan Art side of things. Sure I make a tiny bit for making the art. The art however is unique and for private use. I don't sell the token commercially. So yes I'm using an iconic figure from a popular game, but I'm not making a killing or trying to compete against PF in any way. If they were to offer the same service I would stop immediately.

So as others have stated I would make sure that:
A. the guy buying the commission cannot use it commercially or even distribute it (except within a small group, and not on a website to be freely downloaded)
B. the company does not make a similar product that he could obtain through proper means.

Get him to agree to the 2 above and you would have covered your butt to some degree.
I am not a lawyer. :)

02-22-2011, 12:45 AM

More importantly, what is the client going to do with the map. If they decide to distribute it to make money at a later time, you could open yourself up to serious liability. You better know the person you are making this map for real well, or they could cause you a big head ache.

02-22-2011, 02:17 AM
I just remembered another case from a week ago or so, where in danish morning tv there was a guy who made cakes looking like fashion items, shoes, bags etc ... the tv station got a call from YSL who asked them to, destroy the cake shaped like one of their bags.

on the other hand on Deviant Art there is a lot of commission work going on with famous characters, especially manga and computer game characters ... again not for commercial use, but just an artist doing a deriv work.

02-22-2011, 11:38 AM
Rob, what is different between paying for software to take multiple images and stitch them together or paying you to stitch them together? None. You are being paid for your time to take multiple images and make a whole, seamless image. Nothing more. Heck, I can go hire legitimately an artist to paint me a copy of the Mona Lisa to hang in my house. There is no danger to the artist, he is hired to perform a job, the danger lies in me if I try to then pass off said picture as the original.

02-22-2011, 12:57 PM
Rob, what is different between paying for software to take multiple images and stitch them together or paying you to stitch them together? None. You are being paid for your time to take multiple images and make a whole, seamless image. Nothing more. Heck, I can go hire legitimately an artist to paint me a copy of the Mona Lisa to hang in my house. There is no danger to the artist, he is hired to perform a job, the danger lies in me if I try to then pass off said picture as the original.

It's not actually stitching them together. The request was to redraw the entire thing in (my own) style. The protected content is the geography and names only, not any of the source images. I wouldn't even consider a cut/paste request from other images.

-Rob A>

02-22-2011, 01:23 PM
Have you checked to see if the campaign world has any verbiage about fan art? Basically you are being commissioned to create a piece of fan art. It doesn't sound like this customer is going to sell this off somewhere.

Technically, as has been said, just copying the work is the infringement. My old art teacher used to say that if you used a picture from a magazine you needed to change it enough that it was yours. Sort of like in music where they can't go over a certain number of note progressions or whatever or they get busted. Doing it by hand is usually enough but because this is of a world already known it will be apparent what it is. Artists who paint murals must deal with this all the time I'm sure. They are probably asked to paint a room of Mickey mouse and friends. I'm wondering if you might want to hit up a website of muralists and see what they have to say on this. Your client wants to hang this on his wall so it's not really any different than what they do all the time. Some of those murals are portable.

02-22-2011, 02:04 PM
If you do this, and have your purchaser sign something, you'll want to make sure you put in an indemnification clause in there, along with an agreement to keep the piece as a private use only thing.

The Purchaser agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Artist against any and all liability, claims, suits, losses, costs and legal fees caused by, arising out of, or resulting from any negligent act or omission of the Purchaser in the use of the purchased work of art.

Edit: And really, that sentence should be in anything that you have anybody sign regarding your art anyways :)

02-22-2011, 03:04 PM
I found something useful on this I think: http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2010/05/13/the-messy-world-of-fan-art-and-copyright/