In the United States, copyright laws take effect as soon as the artist creates the artwork. Suppose you’re a fan art illustrator who creates movie posters with original copyrighted characters. In that case, you should contact the original artist to avoid copyright infringement.

Art can fall under trademark and copyright. 

Congress enacted copyright laws in the United States to encourage art and creation by rewarding the artist with exclusive rights. For more information on US copyright law then, you will need to check out this government website.

The law grants artists the right to make and sell copies of their artwork. Copyright protections apply for a set amount of time, usually 70 years after the artist’s death. Buying or requesting permission for copyright rights from the artist isn’t all that complicated.

Copyright law pertains to all forms of creation. We are talking about visual art, books, music, movies, characters, video games, etc., to name a few.  Copyright infringement ain’t no joke, and there have been many cases in the past century that cost the culprits plenty of time and money.

DISCLOSURE: Before proceeding, I need to disclose that I am not an attorney, and the following should not be misconstrued as legal advice. If you have questions regarding the law and copyright, then you will need to hire an attorney.

Also, if you need further clarification on what you can and can’t print, you will want to read this. Is It Illegal To Print Movie Posters? (Don’t Get Caught Doing This)

Identify Copyright Owner for Original Work

Legally you will need permission and a license agreement from the owner. Once you determine a copyright owner’s existence, you will need to request permission to use the artwork. 

The first step is to research copyright ownership information extensively. Keep in mind that the use of a copyright stamp is optional.

If you can’t locate the owner’s name on the art, that doesn’t mean that copyright doesn’t exist. However, much of the time, when you look at the art, you will see the artist’s name after the copyright symbol. 

Search for the owner of the copyright online, and they may have a website. Suppose the artwork doesn’t show who owns the copyright. In that case, you may find the original piece with the artist’s information through an online search.

It’s also important to remember that since the owner can transfer ownership, the information you have may not reference the current owner’s data. 

When it comes to movies, the writers often sell their rights to the movie studios. Generally speaking, movie studies will own the rights to the characters that you are most likely wanting to create fan art for.

Making mistakes with copyright crimes can be very costly, yet there are numerous other mistakes movie poster designers make, which we highlight in this article:


Check to See if They Offer a Fan Art Program

Sometimes when the copyright owner is a larger corporation, they may offer their own fan art program. Go to the copyright owner’s corporate website to see if such a program exists and, if so, what the requirements and specifications are. 

Also, make sure to check their guidelines thoroughly to see what kind of fan art they permit in their program and on their website. If you already have something specific in mind you were planning to do with your artwork, continue through to the next step, and contact them for permission. 

One of the biggest movie players, Disney, owns a gazillion rights for popular franchises like Star Wars, Mickey Mouse, and Marvel. Here is the link to their website which provides licensing information.

Contact the Owner to Request Permission

If you determine a copyright owner and locate contact information, the next step would be to reach out to them.

Get in contact with the copyright owner and let them know you’d like to create fan art using their character, art, etc. Ask the artist for written permission to use their artwork. Let them know that your artwork isn’t directly related but you are trying to make awesome fan art.

Copyright owners have reported delays in giving consent for use many times because the request doesn’t provide all of the necessary information. Your letter to the copyright owner should include all of the following information. 

  • Artists/owners full name
  • Title of the piece of artwork with details about it
  • The exact sample of the art that you wish to use in your poster
  • Copyright date 
  • The location where you will be displaying the posters 
  • Whether you will be making a profit from the artwork
  • Your name, organization if you have one, and complete contact details 

The agreement between you and the copyright owner should have the terms and conditions of your deal. Usually, they request a portion of your profit from the sale of the posters, for example, 15% of gross sales.

If this is the case, make sure you list the terms and conditions on the agreement. You will want to reach out to the artist/copyright owner as far in advance as possible, as the process may take some time. 

If you use an artist’s work without getting permission, you may receive a cease and desist letter. The letter would be a request to stop using the artist’s work without their consent. If this does happen, you should discontinue use immediately, or they may sue you in federal court. 

Going through the process to locate the copyright’s owner and contact them for permission is a relatively simple process.  By doing this correctly, you avoid upsetting any artists and the possibility of a lawsuit. Now that you’ve gone through getting permission to use a sample of art in your fan art movie poster, all there is to do now is start creating! 


How to make fan art posters?

Most of this website is dedicated to teaching the ins and outs of the movie poster business, and that includes fan art. We are currently producing an online curriculum of movie poster tutorials. The cool thing is that the classes are taught by professional art directors and illustrators working in the movie business as professional designers and fan artists.

If this is something you would be interested in then sign up for our Newsletter and you will be notified when the classes are available.

Until our classes are ready these articles will help point you in the right direction: