Copyright infringement through drawings?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Copyright infringement through drawings?

Post by duckwraith »

So as a way to earn a little more money I sell shirts and merch on pages like redbubble.
Yesterday I did a short one hour project based on Star Wars' most iconic character, Darth Vader, a kinda silly thing with him having lost his hand and the title ''Sith Happens''. The only reference materials I used were a few pictures of Vader for proportions and to see how shadows fall, aside from that, it's a fully original piece of digital art.

I got an email from Redbubble today stating that they ''have removed the following content from Redbubble in response to past complaints from Lucasfilms, Ltd., a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, the claimed owner or licensee of related intellectual property and in accordance with Redbubble's IP/Publicity Rights Policy''

I did message redbubble to find out what was wrong with the piece but I'll have to wait a couple of days for a vague answer, so I was hoping for a better answer here.

This is the information that I can give as context:

-It is an original piece at least 40-60% different from the source material

-I do not think that I need a license to sell Star Wars related shirts, as (for example) only by typing in ''star wars'' into redbubble search thousands of pieces come up, and I highly doubt that all these thousands of artists could afford to buy licences.

-If it's the character that is copyrighted, I don't understand why those thousands of artist still have their work up.

-In the few hours that it was up it only got about 20 views so it's not like it sold thousands of euros worth of merch. Actually it hadn't sold a single time yet as it had just been up for little less than a day.

Any and all information and help is greatly appreciated.
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi duckwraith,
It's hard to know what specific complaint Lucasfilm raised about your posting, but given the speed with which they reacted I would say they were using a bot to track instances of words like Star Wars or Darth Vader and then just sending out automated takedown notices without necessarily checking the actual content found.
If this was a DMCA take down notice, as seems likely, Redbubble are required to tell you exactly what the complaint is, and you have the right to refute the claim if you think it is wrong.
However large sites like Vimeo, Youtube and I suspect Redbubble, get thousands of these takedown notices every day and so they too have an automated system for removing the content and notifying their subscribers, again often with minimal human intervention. In any case it's not the job of the hosting site to make value judgements about takedown notices, they just act as the post box and that way, they don't get sued.
So it may be that Lucasfilm think you have infringed their copyright in the images of Darth Vader, or it may be to do with trade mark infringement (or both). But without the details it's not really possible to say much about whether the claims are justified or would stand up in court. Lucasfilm have a reputation for robustly protecting their intellectual property so this is not a surprising move.
Once you get the details from Redbubble and if you think the claim is wrong, use the Redbubble counter-notice procedure to get your page re-instated, and possibly have to fight the matter directly with Lucasfilm/Disney.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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