Funimation Makes a Statement on Fan Art & Trademark Right
The North American anime distributor Funimation issued a statement this week regarding its stance on fan art and intellectual property — particularly trademarks. While the company tends not to enforce its copyrights (i.e. every anime to which they own the distribution rights in the US), it must enforce trademarks (company and anime logos, names, titles, symbols etc.) or face losing them under United States law.
What does this mean for artists and vendors featuring anime art at conventions (specifically anime expos)? It’s a slippery slope, for sure. From what I understand talking with friends in the craft and dealer circuit, up-cycled art is pretty safe from the wrath of copyright infringement since it’s considered “found art” — meaning that it was purchased/paid for in its original form, and therefore free to be repurposed in any way that the purchaser sees fit. The art itself just can’t be copied. Some companies might still feel compelled to send a cease and desist letter, though.
As for what the statement actually targets, as long as you hand create the art yourself, Funimation won’t bother you if you decide to sell it. What they’re really after is the use of character names, anime titles, or logos. If a work (crafted items) is “inspired by” a character, don’t actually use the character’s name. If you want to further stay under Funimation’s radar, don’t use/sell particular symbols either. The best example would be the cornucopia of branch symbols used in Attack on Titan.
Furthermore, if you sell knock-off action figures or pieces of art (not hand made pieces of art) that blatantly identifies itself as Funimation’s property, Funimation will let loose a hungry titan on your butt.
Here’s entire statement is below:
At law, a fan-created artwork that is clearly based on existing artwork owned by a copyright holder other than the fan (e.g. Funimation), is considered an unauthorized “derivative work” or an unauthorized reproduction (by substantial similarity) and therefore infringes the copyright holder’s rights under 17 U.S.C. § 106.
Despite Funimation’s legal stance on this issue, Funimation appreciates the entertainment, education and skill that goes into and arises from the imitation and creation of works derived from existing works of popular manga and anime. Funimation likewise realizes that the “Artist Alley” area of most conventions can be a good showcase for these works and therefore Funimation tends not to enforce its copyright rights against those in Artist Alley who may be infringing Funimation’s copyright rights.
Funimation’s trademark rights, on the other hand, cannot go unenforced. This stems from a key distinction between U.S. Copyright Law and U.S. Trademark Law—in short, if copyright rights are not enforced, the copyright stays intact and the copyright holder generally will not suffer any harm beyond the infringement itself. But if trademark rights are not enforced, the trademark can be cancelled. Because of this difference, Funimation cannot knowingly tolerate unauthorized use of its trademarks, such as use of trademarks in conjunction with the display or sale of works whose creation is likewise unauthorized. This means that Funimation will take action if it or its agents discover unauthorized works, including fan art, which include a Funimation-owned/licensed trademark within the work or are on display in conjunction with signage bearing a Funimation-owned/licensed trademark. Note that the trademarks Funimation is primarily concerned with are brand names and logos.
As to the Dealer’s Room, Funimation strictly enforces both its copyright rights and trademark rights, almost without exception. This applies to works that are believed to be counterfeit, unlicensed or fan-created.