Have you ever been told you have a creative talent? Maybe everyone loves your ability to make a creative interpretation of film, TV, and popular culture. Perhaps you want to download an actual movie poster from the internet and make a copy. But is it okay to copy images like movie posters?

Generally, you can not copy or print movie posters without permission. If you wish to make copies of movie posters or film images, you must identify and request permission from the copyright holder. Make sure you get this permission in writing to demonstrate you have permission from the copyright holder. 

Can you make copies of movie posters for yourself and your friends? What about copying movie posters to sell? Read on to learn all of this and more!

How Does Copyright Law Protect Movie Poster Ownership? 

Copyright law protects how a movie poster is used, distributed, and reproduced. The copyright holder has exclusive rights to decide how and where the images and content are displayed, sold, and used. 

Generally speaking, copyright law protects the use of movie posters and images. Most intellectual content is protected by U.S. copyright or patent laws that prevent unauthorized use and distribution. 

Movie posters can’t be used or displayed without permission from the copyright owner of the movie and movie poster since they’re often used as promotional pieces. Theft and unauthorized use can seriously impede the sales of the film. 

Unauthorized use can negatively impact how the movie’s perceived. The film studios use professional printing and graphic designers to create the most marketable images. Where can you find these designers and agencies? This is where.

Everything from the font for the film’s title to the lighting to the character display was explicitly chosen by experts. When the production company makes copies of movie posters, the images are clear and made with high-quality ink and paper. 

Pirated movie posters and images often appear less clear and are made with low-quality materials. They also usually have multiple misspellings and typos, which reflects how they don’t have the same editorial review resources. 

Movie Poster Printer

Can You Make Copies of Movie Posters for Private Use? 

As a rule of thumb, you can not make copies of film posters, even for private use. All movie images and promotional materials are protected property of the movie studio. Unauthorized copying and displays of pirated material can land you in legal trouble. 

Many people know that copying and selling a movie poster is probably illegal. However, what if you just want a movie poster hanging on your bedroom wall? Can you copy a movie poster for your own private use and display? 

Technically, it’s not legal to use movie posters this way. 

As you can see on various lawyer forum pages, copyright forbids the unauthorized use and copying of material.

This includes using images at weddings and other family gatherings. As one commentator points out on this forum, you should avoid discussing your use and display of movie posters online unless you have permission. 

So the short answer is, no, you can’t copy and use movie posters privately without permission. Contacting the copyright owner is the best way to ensure you don’t violate any laws and go about using images legally. 

However, there are several instances where you can use movie images without prior permission. Fair use laws protect individuals’ right to use, parody, and critique specific art and intellectual property. An excellent example of this is art showrooms at various convention centers, like anime conventions and comic-con. 

You’ll find an art showroom at these conventions where private illustrators and artists make artistic interpretations of film and TV. You might see paintings, pastels, or even computer-generated illustrations of popular shows and movies. 

These images aren’t copies of the posters or movie/TV show pictures. These are creative interpretations of the show, used to show the illustrator’s perception of the film or TV show. Not all reproductions are protected under fair use laws, though. 

We discuss fan art further here; Is Fan Art Plagiarism? How To Safely Sell Your Artwork! and A Beginner’s Guide To Making Fan Art (Don’t Get Sued)

Fair use is a tricky topic that can be interpreted widely and is often misapplied. Technically, you can parody or create an artistic expression of a copyrighted image.

However, simply taking your paintbrush and recreating a movie poster is not technically protected under fair use. 

You’re more likely to get in trouble for the unlawful use and sale of pirated images. Although this doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble for the private use of pirated images.

Movie studios invest money in promotional materials and collector’s items. By pirating these images, you’re cutting into their sales and impacting their profit margins. 

Reynold Brown

Can You Make Copies of Movie Posters to Sell? 

The basic rule is, no, you can not sell illegal reproductions of movie images and film posters. This is because film production companies have contracts with the producers of film posters.

Anybody can drop a movie poster image on their thumb drive and get the file printed at Walgreens or even WalMart.

Sales are an essential part of movie production, and by granting certain companies the rights to sell and market memorabilia, they guarantee profits. 

As we discussed above, specific uses are protected under fair use laws. These uses include: 

  • Reviews 
  • Parodies
  • News reports 
  • Artistic interpretation

These uses might seem broadly applicable, but you must be careful about applying them. Courts are in charge of interpreting how fair use is involved.

This means that fair use protects the right to utilize copyright material; you need to be careful how you interpret the application. 

If the courts see that you’ve violated copyright law or abused fair use, you could be in for a hefty fine. Illegally copying and selling copyrighted material is likely to cause more legal issues than copying and using movie images privately. 

There are only two ways you can legally make copies of film posters and sell them. These include the following: 

  • Artistic movie poster interpretations 
  • Permission to copy and sell posters

Getting a license agreement to sell movie posters is the safest way. However, movie studios don’t grant permission easily, and it can be challenging to get in touch if you don’t have a reputation as a seller. 

Most artistic expressions are protected under fair use. If you create a parody or creative interpretation of film posters, you can probably sell these at conventions and online without an issue. 

If you’re unsure, contact an attorney to advise you. While lawyer fees might seem hefty, they’re much cheaper than fines and jail time. 

This article may help as well, The Difference Between Commercial Movie Posters and Fan Art.

How Does Fair Use Apply to Copying Movie Posters? 

Fair use allows you to make certain kinds of copies of copyrighted material. Most of the time uses such as news reports, artistic expression, and parodies are protected under fair use laws. But you must be careful how you use these materials because not all forms of expression are protected. 

Fair use only protects specific uses. Some sorts of uses are considered favorable use. These uses include the following: 

  • Commentary 
  • News reports 
  • Parodies 
  • Educational purposes 

If you’re writing a report about a movie or reviewing it for a journal, then you should be fine. This is considered intellectual use that is permitted by most fair use applications. However, you can’t use this as an excuse to abuse copyright. 

Make sure you’re using the images appropriately without engaging in defamation or lies. Be accurate and fair in your review to ensure you don’t spread inaccurate information. Although this doesn’t mean you can’t leave a negative review, just be honest and fair. 

Can You Ask For Permission to Use and Sell Movie Posters and Images? 

You can ask permission to use movie posters and images. The best way to do this is to contact the copyright owner or visit their website for details on how to use their material legally.

Always make an effort to credit the original creators and copyright holders on or in your creative work. 

When you want to start a business creating artistic takes on movies or movie posters, you should contact the copyright owners. Before doing anything, you’ll want to figure out who owns the copyright. 

You can identify copyright ownership by searching the U.S. Copyright Office website. If you don’t trust yourself, you can hire an attorney to help you navigate every step of the process. However, you should be able to find the copyright owner by searching this database. 

Some content copyright has expired, which means it’s in the public domain. Copyright can expire if the date of copyright has passed and the owners haven’t renewed it. Or if they never chose to copyright the material and put it in the public domain. 

Once you’ve confirmed the copyright and the copyright owner, you’ll need to contact them for permission.

Occasionally, large companies offer creative opportunities for fan artists. If this is the case, you should be able to identify the program on the company’s website. 

If they don’t have this type of program, you’ll need to contact them directly for permission. You should email or write a letter to the company.

Fully identifies yourself, your request, goals, and needs. Also, make sure you correctly identify the individual or branch of the company you want to direct the letter. 

Learn more about how to request permission from the copyright holder in our article How To Get Copyright Permissions For Your Fan Art Movie Posters

Tom Chantrell

Closing Thoughts

We hope you found this helpful article. We all want to encourage creativity and expression, but we also need to protect the intellectual property of creatives. As always, if you need legal advice, contact an attorney.

Always choose to do what you can to respect the copyright ownership of others. These rules will also protect your intellectual property when you decide to publish your creations! 

Also, be sure you don’t scammed; this details a few ways you know you are buying an original movie poster; How to Tell If My Movie Poster Is Original?

We’re here to help you navigate the complex legal regulations surrounding film posters and their use. If you want to learn more, check out our blog, Poster Grind!


Quora: Are movie posters copyright free? I mean, can I use them without asking for permission like other images for business?

Poster Grind: Do Movie Posters Have Copyright?

Poster Grind: Do Graphic Designers Make Movie Posters?

Britannica: piracy copyright crime

AVVO: Copyright printing movie posters for personal use?

Standford: The Basics of Getting Permission

Standford: What Is Fair Use?

PSU:  How does fair use work for book covers, album covers, and movie posters?

Copyright.Gov: Search Copyright Records: Copyright Public Records Portal

Poster Grind: How To Get Copyright Permissions For Your Fan Art Movie Posters