Sharing Fanart

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Related terms: Fanart, File Sharing, Displaying Fanart
See also: Sharing Deleted Fanworks
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The Print Era

In the days before fan art on the internet, sharing of fan art was limited to photocopies and the occasional print run. The steep costs of reproduction and low production quality available meant that the redistribution of fan art, both authorized and unauthorized, was highly restricted. Many fan artists relied upon these technological hurdles to stabilize the prices of both their original art as well as their art print runs. To see fan art you either had to buy the zine, borrow a copy of the zine, or spend money to attend a convention where the art was displayed. Both original art and fan art prints were sold at conventions, either in art shows or at art auctions, often fetching prices of hundreds of dollars each.[1] This limited supply and exposure meant that due to art's visual medium, LOCs and discussions of fan art were infrequent when compared to the printed word:[2]

A note on art critique: Fan art, except for brief Locs, is pretty much neglected in fan discussion columns (I'm still mourning the demise of ARTFORUM), thus artists are rather united on feedback. An loc saying "Gee what a nice drawing," while being flattering tells the artist nothing of WHY the art is good. Or why does the art fail? Artists aren't any more touchy about their work than writers (I know art is in the eye of the beholder, but so is how a reader views a story), artists can take it on the chin just as well when subjected to constructive criticism. It used to be an inside joke in art class that to be told your drawing was 'nice' was considered the kiss of translated to being told your art was mediocre. So it would be interesting to have a comment or two in the ARENA section of what fans like, dislike, want to see more or less of in the visual aspects of zines.[3]

One fan in the 1990s compared the reproduction of fan art to the reproduction of fanzines:

.... artwork usually cannot be reproduced without losing *significant* quality. I mean, you slap that color Lovett down on the xerox machine, you do not end up with something approximating the original. (There are exceptions; black pen&ink work may xerox pretty well, as long as there are no big dark spaces or delicate shading.) And the loss of quality degrades the experience of viewing the art. Plus, art is normally thought of as a display item, so that a piece of xerox paper, even if it preserves the artwork, doesn't have the cachet that the framed parchment original does. Stories, on the other hand, are not display items, so their appearance is important in a very different way. Xeroxing text does degrade quality (print gets lighter, streaks appear), but that does not *materially* affect the experience of reading the story until it gets quite bad. I mean, it will make reading the story less pleasant, but it is always possible to say "great story, lousy print quality." You couldn't say "great art, lousy visual appearance," could you? And when the copy degrades too far, anybody can retype it, restoring all the quality of the original (unless lines have been cropped in copying) and quite possibly improving it over the original, knowing some circuit stories out there; whereas Ms. Average Fan is not going to be able to retouch that xeroxed Lovett until it's as good as the original."[4]

Even as flat-bed scanners became more affordable in the mid 1990s, as more and more fans uploaded fan art on email and mailing lists. The digital exchange of fan art was acceptable Fans could not see the value of buying a digital scan they could not display on a wall, and artists worried that the free distribution of fan art would impact its marketability. Also, many fan artists worried about the legal ramifications of seeing their fan art widely available online. And last, at least in the early days of the World Wide Web, limited graphical display software and low modem connection speeds meant that it was often impractical to view fan art online.

This still did not prevent fans from sharing fan art. For example in 1996, Suzan Lovett learned that someone was mailing a floppy disk to other fans that contained two scans of her artwork. This news was then immediately exaggerated into CD-ROMs being shared with dozens of scans and then later into Suzan's artwork being uploaded to the Internet - neither of which were true. Suzan then threatened to pull all her art print sales from fandom, and instead focus only on commissioned fan art. However, as one fan pointed out, the mass cross-posting of Suzan's complaints to multiple mailing lists raised the possibility, in many fans minds, that one could share fan art.[5]

The Lovett incident did not take place in isolation. Earlier in 1994 one fan pointed out that as long as fandom treated art as a scarce resource, it could, eventually, led to widespread sharing.

"I think the problem is that artists *don't* make their work available. There is nothing more frustrating than having *once* seen a Suzan Lovett print in an auction, (that I now wish I had), and not being able to buy a print of it. I do not consider *one* person being able to pay possibly hundreds of dollars at an auction as being "available." I am not prone to copying things that are available. But I believe that almost everyone will agree that copying out-of-print zines is acceptable after a reasonable attempt has been made to find a used copy. (Well, if you don't agree, then too bad:-) Unfortunately, art is not distributed, or sold, as zines are. Availability is extremely limited; I assume to justify the high prices at auctions. Thus, if artists will not provide prints of their art, then I'm beginning to think that the notion of an 'art circuit' is not unreasonable. Frustration is a terrible thing...."[6]

Fan Art Online

By the early and mid 2000s, more and more fan art began to appear on various websites such as the artist's website and fan archives, and with the adoption of personal blogging, more and more fan artists began displaying their fan art online in their own personal spaces. At the same time, art software came down in price, which led more and more fan artists to switch to the new digital medium. Without the fanzine publisher or convention art show as an intermediary, fan artists could, for the first time, communicate directly with their fan audience and get feedback about their fan art.

With the new technology and direct lines of communication, came additional problems, namely controlling access and limiting distribution of fan art. The old methods (limited print runs, difficult reproduction) no longer constrained fandom. Still, there was an understanding, for many years, that reposting or sharing fan art without permission was not something to be done within media fandom. [7] This did not stop fans from continuing to share fan art as before under the table or via private mailing lists. The taboo, one fan admitted, was "not that copying and sharing was being done. The taboo was in admitting it was done. As if the mere admission of the fact was tacit permission."[8]

Social Networking and Embedding Brings New Challenges

an example of a Tumblr gif that argues that while "reblogging" fanart on Tumblr is OK, "reposting" will cause your fellow fans to "hunt you down and pee on everything you love." Source).

Social networking in the mid 2000s began to erode some of these prohibitions against sharing fan art. This erosion did not take place over night and was by no means uniform. For example, on some fan art review blogs, fan were discouraged from reproducing the fan art they were reviewing -- instead they could only link back to the original or provide an extremely cropped version of the art as a teaser preview.[9] Yet, at the same time, fan artists began moving to even more open fan art platforms like DeviantArt that allowed embedding of their fan art into other blogs and websites. This created a cognitive dissonance in fandom that is still ongoing -- while the artists' chosen platform allowed reproduction, many members in the fandom community frowned on the use of those technological tools. In the late 2000s, a large portion of media fandom migrated to Tumblr, which was designed around the endless 'reblogging' of photos and images. Subtle nuances began to creep into the fan art sharing discussions, usually centered on technological aspects that often had little to do with fandom and more with the tools of the social platforms itself. For example, on Tumblr, "reblogging" was good, and "reposting" was bad.[10] This is because on Tumblr, reblogging allowed the original poster to see the number of reblogs along with the subsequent comments, whereas reposts, even with a link back to the artist's tumblr, did not 'count' towards their fandom popularity.[11] And of course, many fan artists were not on tumblr at all, which meant that how their fanart was received the community was invisible to them. These fine distinctions would have been incomprehensible to the fan artists of just a few decades earlier.

Complicating matters is that, even among fan artists, there is no uniformity of opinion regarding sharing, authorized or unauthorized, of fan art.

"When you repost something, even if you put a source, and it now exists on your blog, you effectively steal someone else’s fandom currency. Those notes and reblogs that you get on the reposted content aren’t yours. You didn’t earn them. They belong to someone else. And guess what, more than likely, the creator, won’t see them and won’t get to enjoy them. It’s fucking stealing and it’s not cool....[Even if] “The artist doesn’t have a Tumblr” – Stop and think here for a minute. If the artist doesn’t have a Tumblr, maybe they don’t want their art posted on Tumblr. Lightbulb moment! And if they don’t have a Tumblr, you can always ask them, and if they say no, then DON’T REPOST IT. LINK PEOPLE TO WHERE THEY DO HAVE IT POSTED. b/c that’s where THEY WANT IT POSTED.........DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE. DON’T REPOST CONTENT THAT IS NOT YOURS! And if you do, be prepared to be called out on it."[12]

Screencap of a tumblr page speaking out against reposting fan art. The text, which too low-res to read, states, with increasing "volume": "People who save someone’s art from their page and then reposts it without credit. NO", "People who reblog other people’s art and remove the artist comments and souce [sic] links. NO" , and "People who disrespect the artist by messing with their art and then being an asshole when the artist asks them to properly credit and/or not steal their art or remove their comments. NO."
"I’m gonna be clear. I’m not really fond of this kind of posts[12]. The OP specified it was their opinion on the matter but it looks like more of a “do’s and don’ts” list. I hate it when people talk in the name of all the artists and “here is what you should do”. Artist are not sardines. There is a sense of belonging to a group, particularly if you are involved in a fandom but it doesn’t mean we all have the same opinion on a specific topic, particularly about something like reposting.

Some artists loose their mind when their art is reposted, it’s their art and I can understand. Some other, like me, don’t give a flying fuck as long as they are credited. It’s a typically YMMV question so this kind of posts rubs me the wrong way. There is no real rule per say. If an artist says “no reposting”, then, it’s different, you have to respect their wish no matter what.

In addition, if you completely stop reposting, you kill blogs like fuckyeahillustrativeart, or darksilenceinsuburbia, blogs that made me discover TONS of wonderful illustrators, go to their blogs, see their progress, understand their technique. Some don’t have Tumblrs and it was great to discover their art that way. However, here, we are talking about professional artists and not people who create art for a fandom.

I can understand that reposting on Tumblr can be annoying on some cases. You draw 10 artworks for a Big Bang and if they are all reposted as a bunch on Tumblr by someone else, people won’t go to your LJ to comment, you loose track of your own art and it’s a pain in the ass. Same when you post artworks that work as a series.

It’s completely open to discussion and it goes beyond the “fandom etiquette”. It depends on the artist’s view on the matter, what kind of art, etc..It’s a pretty complicated issue."[13]

Some fan artists can be very specific as to what they will - and will not allow. The permutations are endless, often contradictory and changing, leaving many fans confused as to what is "acceptable". Here, this fan artist asks fans to not "distribute" her art but in a later comment indicates they can embed her art or reblog it using only certain methods on certain platforms:

"Please do not distribute my art without my permission, i.e. do not upload my art to other sites, services, archives, or wikis. That includes uploading the images themselves to your own Tumblr, even with credit. A high resolution version of this art without the URL watermarking is available on request for private, non-commercial uses." This fan follows this comment with: ".. links are absolutely okay, and I'd be delighted to be linked in your rec newsletter. I also put it up on deviantArt with sharing enabled so people can embed my art, and recently I caved and got a Tumblr, so people can reblog my posts. I just don't want people to upload files themselves to their own spaces."[14]

Interestingly, the prohibitions against reposting or embedding (vs reblogging which is a tumblr specific tool) indicates that even sharing with proper credit is unacceptable to some fans. In this quote there is also an elevation of the fan creator at the expense of the non-creator with its emphasis that sharing "cheapens the community." This approach seems to be at odds with fandom's preferred social media platforms built on re-blogging, re-tweeting and otherwise automatic tools used for sharing the art, posts, and words of others:

"Why do people think that it is okay to just link to the source post? IT is not okay! Let’s say it again: it is not okay to re-post something that you did not personally create EVEN if you link to the source post, even if you link to the source post and say something lovely about the creator. NOT EVEN THEN.

Not only is it considered stealing by everyone, it is stealing. And it’s wrong.

At the real heart of the matter is a lesson to be learned. You should create for yourself, the more you create the better you’ll become. With time and effort you will be contributing to the community in a real way and not in a way that cheapens the experience for everyone else.[15]

Still, in spite of these mixed messages, there are some who see value in sharing fan art, arguing that is increases the fan art's value, rather than reducing the fan artist's 'currency':

A banner created as part of a 2013 viral art campaign to force a Facebook group to stop reposting fan art. The words "Art Thieves" are placed prominently across a screencap of the Facebook page


"...the definition of theft leaves something to be desired. There is nothing actually stolen – normally, bloggers and blog readers fully recognize that the art displayed on the posts in question were not, in fact, drawn or rendered by the writer, but merely discovered through whatever means of image searching. While there have been attempts at actual theft – in this case, defined as the claiming of ownership and origination of the art in question – that is most often done between graphic artists, and not by writers.

In fact, the core of the problem with the idea of fanart theft is that it assumes a classical scarce-resource economic context. That the use of fanart in blog posts somehow demeans the original art, and the effort made to create it. But this is, frankly, bullshit – online media, much to the chagrin of news corporations, music companies and even bookstores, don’t function under scarce resource principals, but under the still mostly theoretical algamic economy – as effectively infinite copies of any one media can be made, barring server and bandwidth restrictions, theft of online media, defined as the unlawful and coerced transaction of finite property ownership, is outright impossible.

In fact, rather than diluting the value of the original art, the use of fanart in blog posts more often than not brings more attention, if initially indirect, to the artist than he or she would’ve gotten under ordinary, classical economy means. Like blog posts, the attention brought necessitates a high enough quality to be worth the attention in the first place, of course, but the fact of the matter is that even the likes of Supercell (whose Love is War art adorns the top of this blog), or Minami (of Chibi Miku-san comics fame), would not be nearly as well known today if it wasn’t, in part, due to the rampant imagesharing culture that now defines the online otaku subculture community. All it takes is one good piece to get people starting to ask for your name, just so they can get more.

So there is no theft going on. Rather, good fanart only increases in value for the artist as more and more attention is cast upon it, and a greater demand for the artist’s style and output grows...[16]

Another fan points out that:

"We complain about stuff like SOPA, ACTA, etc, but when *Fanart* artists demand pretty much the same ridiculously close-minded treatment for their non-copyright proected works, they expect to be understood? This is a sentiment I cannot agree with, excuse me. Being reposted with proper credit does NOT hurt an artist, it expands their audience, which supports their growth

The “You can always asks if you can repost it” arguement is ridiculous. A good artist would get a hundred mails with that question per day at that rate. Don’t you think those wouldn’t get annoying to answer after some time? I know I would turn sick of it quickly! Where is the logic in that?

A good artist, in my opinion, will always, first and foremost want two things: The enjoyment of their audience, and the recognition of their audience. These are BOTH things that can only be provided if their art actually spreads!

If you keep it from being spread, you stiffle [sic] yourself. For an irrational fear of somehow suffering a non-existent disadvantage in becoming more known, you stiffle yourself and shut off endless possibilities that could open to you due to becoming more known on the internet.

When people take a stance like this and call it “Fanart Protection”, I just find that sad.[17]

Yet even here on the topic of fandom currency, fandom opinion is not uniform. For a completely different take on the 'Online Fanart Protection Manifesto' created on behalf of Japanese fan artists read Fan Entitlement, especially as it relates to fan art and icons, Archived version dated Dec 22, 2009. And for yet a third, middle of the road opinion, read Image Accreditation: Necessity Through the Filter of Reason, Archived version dated August 4, 2009.

In 2015, one popular fan artist attempted to inject some practicality into the ongoing discussion of how to share fanart. Responding to a new fan artist who was worried about posting her artwork online, she explained:

[it is important for fan artists to recognize the] difference between reposting without credit and reposting with credit that is to say people who want to share your work with their followers respectfully because they love what you do and people who don’t give a shit about the artist, like FB groups for instance......forget about Instagram. If you start contacting every people who repost there (and crop your artworks), it’s gonna give you big headaches and make you waste a lot of time. Sometimes, you have to admit that some fights are lost and this fucking website, like FB, are one of them......Yes, reposting/art theft can happen, it will happen. Welcome to the digital age! It’s annoying, a bit time consuming but you’ll get used to it and in the end it’s not such a problem. Come on, no more worries, time to open your blog and be part of the cool art kids ^^"[18]


  1. ^ A Suzan Lovett MUNCLE art piece sold for over $400 at the 1994 Zebracon art auction. In 2003, Suzan's art used on the cover of Timeless sold for $3,000. Not all the pieces that sold for a high price were originals, however. Even art prints could command high prices. At the 1997 MediaWest art auction Suzan sold multiple Professionals art prints for $300-$500 each. A print that sold for $95 at the same convention was considered to be a bargain. Source: Morgan Dawn's personal notes, accessed May 25, 2012.
  2. ^ In 1994, fans on the Virgule-L attempted to discuss a Suzan Lovett drawing. The problem was that the description was so generic and covered so many Lovett's drawings that the discussions devolved into a "who's on first" debate as fans attempted to identify the drawing and whether it had appeared in a zine or at an art show. The art piece was only described as "Avon & Blake wrapped around each other, emotional stuff everywhere, complete and total nudity with no penises displayed." As a result art was rarely discussed on Virgule-L. Source: Morgan Dawn's personal notes, accessed June 11, 2013.
  3. ^ comment in The LOC Connection #28 (1991).
  4. ^ Shoshanna's post to the Virgule-L mailing list on April 13, 1996 (quoted with permission).
  5. ^ Source: Morgan Dawn's notes of discussions taking place in 1996.
  6. ^ post in 1994 to the Virgule-L mailing list quoted anonymously.
  7. ^ insert note about different traditions in anime and manga fandoms.
  8. ^ Morgan Dawn's personal notes of conversations with fans in the 1990s, accessed June 11, 2013.
  9. ^ Can reccers include fan art previews, Archived version post at fanart-recs dated July 25, 2011.
  10. ^ In January 2013, a Tumblr campaign, Archived version was started to discourage the practice of "stealing" gifs by reposting (i.e. downloading and then uploading to start a new chain of reblogs) instead of reblogging. See the fail_fandomanon discussion, Archived version. See also the tumblr tag "reblog don't repost, Archived version and the the "art thief" tag, Archived version on tumblr (accessed June 14, 2011). Additional campaigns took place against a Supernatural art Facebook group in June of 2013. See Calling all SPN fan artists...(and all art-loving fans), Archived version dated June 11, 2013. The latter campaign resulted in the Facebook group agreeing to credit and/or remove art upon artist request.
  11. ^ "The single biggest piece of etiquette would be not to strip out your sources. Reblogs with the automatic links back to the Tumblr where you found it are cool, stripping out those links is uncool. If you're posting something cool you found on Pixiv or DA or whatever, link back to the original source...." Source: comment, Archived version in a fail-fandomanon post about Tumblr etiquette, dated March 4, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Reposting and You – a fandom etiquette discussion, Archived version dated March 15, 2013.
  13. ^ Reposting vs Reblogging discussion, Archived version dated June 11, 2013.
  14. ^ fanart, Gnome & Horklumps, Archived version dated August 28, 2011.
  15. ^ tumblr post, Archived version by omegacora dated May 17, 2013 (reference link).
  16. ^ Geekscream: Fan Art and Fair Use, Archived version discussing the Online Fanart Protection Manifesto, Archived version dated August 5, 2009.
  17. ^ I don't understand the OFP, Archived version dated October 13, 3012.