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Now This is a Story All About How… I Got Hit with a DMCA Notice from Funimation

So, this incident happened a little while ago but I needed some time to cool off before I wrote about it, because at the time I was PISSED! Time has softened my anger so that now I look back on the whole thing with some degree of amusement, don’t get me wrong, I am still pretty frustrated about the whole situation, but not enough to wage a one woman crusade against FUNimation. I’ve put away my pitchfork and doused my torch, and after a bit of self reflection I think I’m finally ready to talk about what happened…

For the past few years I have been running an online shop on Etsy where I sell crochet items. I have a few original creations, but the bulk of my merchandise consists of anime inspired amigurumi dolls. For those of you unfamiliar with crochet or yarn crafting in general, amigurumi is a Japanese term used to describe the art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed toys. The term amigurumi (編みぐるみ) literally means knit or crochet stuffed toy and these can be anything from stuffed animals to dolls and I’ve even seen a lot of people who make cute food plushies. There really is no limit to what you can make with amigurumi, so it really allows the crafter the freedom to let their imaginations soar.

At first, it started as something that I did just for myself—my mom taught me basic crochet techniques when I was little, mostly blankets, scarves, and the odd winter hat—it was only after some friends and family members suggested that I sell my wares online that I even entertained the idea of starting an Etsy shop. Now, I’m not one of those folks looking to make a living off of my crafting, this is still largely just a hobby I do when the spirit moves me, so I’m not exactly rolling in the dough, but, the extra cash from one off sales definitely helps.

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But, mostly it was just a fun way for me to keep my hands busy and hone my crochet skills—no harm no foul. Or so I thought. So, a few months after starting my Etsy shop, I started branching out and trying new things (at the time I mostly made Sailor Moon inspired dolls and I believe there were some mini Sushi plushies too), I had finally settled on a style that I liked and I was starting to really come into my own as a crafter. I had made a handful of sales and the response from folks online was pretty good. It felt nice to have people genuinely interested in my work and I liked the feeling of satisfaction I got when I finished making a doll. So, I started setting my sights on more ambitious projects.

Unless I get a commission, I tend to make dolls based on characters from my favorite anime or video games and in 2017, even though it had been a year since Yuri!! On Ice had aired I was still super hyped about the series. So, I decided that my next crochet project would be a pair of dolls inspired by Yuri and Viktor from the series, and since I LOVED the couples’ skate scene so much, I’d have them wearing those outfits.

It was an ambitious project to say the least, anyone who has seen the series will tell you that all of the costumes on that show are highly detailed and not the easiest to recreate. But, I was undeterred. I spent around a week making the dolls, during which time I must have ripped out countless stitches and tossed at least a dozen different pieces. But, finally after working and reworking the dolls I had finally created something that I was satisfied with.

I will admit, I was really feeling myself with these dolls—at the time they were my best creations and I was super proud of how all the little details came together so nicely in doll form. So, I did what any proud crafter would do, I posted them online and the response was great. Most people really liked the dolls, so I posted them on my Etsy store in hopes that someone would want to purchase them. I even marketed them as a pair, Yuri!! On Ice Inspired Amigurumi Dolls. I was naive. You see, I had posted other dolls inspired by anime characters before and there was no fuss, I am not well versed on copyright law, but I assumed that my dolls were derivative enough that it wouldn’t be an issue. I mean, I make faceless dolls… Besides, it wasn’t like I had a factory of doll makers cranking these bad boys out, it was just me and my two hands. These were the only two dolls of their kind and due to the popularity of the series I figured someone would snap them up fairly quickly.

But, 10 days after I posted the dolls on my Etsy shop, I received an email from Etsy stating that they had been sent a notice of copyright infringement from FUNimation Entertainment. I WAS FLOORED!

I got the notice while I was at work and in the span of about five minutes I went through the full gambit of emotions—confusion, fear, anger, rage, fear, hysterical laughter, frustration, and then an eerie sense of calm as the full weight of what I was reading sunk in. So, some background on what happens when Etsy gets a copyright infringement notice about a listing: the first thing they do is pull the listing and then they notify the seller that their listing has been pulled. Simple. If this is your first offense they will return your listing fee, which at the time was 0.20¢, however, if this is not your first offense they keep the fee. This was my first offense, so the Yuri!! On Ice listing was pulled, I was given a warning, and they sent on my merry way. I was fully within my rights to dispute it, but I have no legal background so I didn’t even know if I could. So, I pretty much let my feeling stew. That should have been the end of it, I mean it could have been so much worse, but, I basically walked away with a slap on the wrist.

But, oh no, I was in my feelings! So I did what any slighted person with an internet connection does when they feel they’ve been wronged—I took to my social media accounts and posted about it. Remember, I was pissed, and I wanted the world to know that a big corporate entity had come for a poor defenseless crafter over some handmade dolls! I will admit I was a bit flattered that a company like FUNimation had felt threatened enough by my dolls to hit me with a DMCA. It was laughable, I was proud of my dolls, sure, but they weren’t anywhere near retail quality and it wasn’t like I was mass producing them in my apartment… but still, FUNimation saw fit to send me a DMCA notice. In hindsight it was probably one of their regular Etsy sweeps, but at the time I was looking for even the smallest silverlining to make me feel better about the whole situation. So I took to Twitter and Facebook, I called family and friends… anyone that would listen and told them my story. And for the most part, everyone seemed to be on my side. Reactions ranged from confusion to mild outrage and I reveled in it, I felt validated. I even made four sales that day, so in the end I benefited from the whole situation.

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But, I will admit that the whole sordid affair did get me thinking about the nature of fanworks and their role in copyright law, I mean I have a degree in Public Health, not Law, so most legal jargon kind of goes over my head. But, that’s the situation that most creators find themselves in—they aren’t lawyers, they don’t have legal counsel, and most have no clue about the ins and outs of copyright law. And most will find themselves in the same situation, with no way of really defending themselves. What do they do?

Most people agree that if a work is derivative enough from an original work then it isn’t infringing on anyone’s rights. However, there is still some grey area. Is a fanfiction copyright infringement? What about fan art? Cosplaying? Where do we draw the line? What happened with me and FUNimation is just one of the many situations involving fanworks and copyright law, and while I look back on it as a mildly amusing setback, there are many people who rely on revenue from their fanworks to make a living.  Is that crime?

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23 replies »

  1. Nice title, but wowowow what a freakin’ nutzo situation. The line between copyright infringement and fair use makes my head hurt… the only real public, well-known litigation about it tends to be around YouTube videos and similar media, so if it’s not those formats us normies really have no idea. I think fanfiction is generally looked at as fair use… I mean not according to Anne Rice though lol!

    Love your crafting though. My mom’s a crocheter, but I never had the patience to learn.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL thank you, I had a lot of fun with the title on this post.

      Yeah, my background definitely isn’t in law, so a lot of this just kind of goes over my head so I appreciate the input of others on the topic.

      I’ve seen a lot of YouTubers get their videos and at times whole channels pulled because copyright infringement. So, it’s more about staying informed (which at the time I was not lol).

      Anne Rice is a very special case lol

      Thank you! I’m glad you like my dolls! ❤ I love crocheting, it can be pretty therapeutic for me since it's a good way to kind of focus my thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s ridiculous! If that’s infringement, they honestly need to shut down the artist alleys of any anime convention (I sell fan art with friends at those every year!)

    Your dolls are beautiful though. I’m sure you don’t need me to say this, but never stop crocheting!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ya know, I definitely felt the same way, but I now (kinda) see where Funimation was coming from with this one. Granted, I’m not happy about it, but they were within their rights.

      I thought about selling at Otakon and Katsucon and they have specific rules governing how much of your merchandise can be fanworks (for Otakon it’s no more than 50%) and they are pretty serious about monitoring each seller during the con. As a seller, have you ever run into any issues with IP or Copyright? I’d really like to have some insight on that side of things.

      Also, thank you for your kind words about my dolls! It really means a lot to me when I hear that people like what I made! 🙂 I have no plans to stop crocheting anytime soon, I’m having way too much fun (though I will be a bit more careful about how I market and sell them).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have never run into such issues, but keep in mind that I also don’t sell work online. The cons I go to are smaller and more local, and none had such restrictions. I’ve been to artist alleys in Asia too, but I haven’t heard of the 50% rule. Personally, I don’t find it all that justified that they police it like that.

        Crocheting does seem like just the right type of quarantine activity! Keep up the awesomeness~

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is definitely interesting. I’d definitely like to know what the policies are at cons outside of the US.

        Yeah, crochet is the perfect quarantine activity… I just haven’t had the motivation to do it lately

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The issue here was that you were specifically name dropping the series, which put you in a worse grey area where you could have faced more issues. Copyright law is complex and often abused so to address your final paragraph:

    “Most people agree that if a work is derivative enough from an original work then it isn’t infringing on anyone’s rights. However, there is still some grey area. Is a fanfiction copyright infringement? What about fan art? Cosplaying? Where do we draw the line? What happened with me and FUNimation is just one of the many situations involving fanworks and copyright law, and while I look back on it as a mildly amusing setback, there are many people who rely on revenue from their fanworks to make a living. Is that crime?”

    Fanfiction – yes, actually this /can/ be copyright infringement if you charge for it. That’s why 50 Shades of Grey is titled that and not “Twilight Fanfiction”.

    Fan art – kind of in the fanfic zone but there’s a little more grey area here. Most companies won’t go after you since they benefit from it, but depending on the circumstances (i.e. you makin’ money), they might. Disney is maybe the worst about this, and everyone else is pretty chill.

    Cosplay – Nope, you good there as long as you don’t claim to have created the character. This is considered “personal use” even if you sell photos of the work or whatever. Way too complicated to casually explain this in more detail.

    Legal obligation here, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. I just had to study this junk for school.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I appreciate the insight! I have zero legal background, so even if it isn’t legal advice, I appreciate the input.

      I think the naming is definitely what flagged the listing. But, on Etsy specifically, I see a lot of listings with similar naming structures that have yet to be pulled/flagged. I think it was a combination of naming, timing, and popularity of the series that attributed to this particular incident.

      Fanfic authors have been hit pretty hard in the past, Anne Rice is notorious for going after fanfic writers (and personally EL James should be held accountable for 50 Shades of Grey lol).

      Fanart is where I see more people getting hit with DMCAs, Voltage Inc (a mobile otome developer) got a little over zealous on Tumblr a few years ago, getting several blogs taken down by claiming fan art as copyright infringement. I also know that Artist Alleys at Cons have rules that dictate that no more than 50% of your works should be fan works for that very reason.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, like I said, it’s really complicated. Generally, you are fine up to a certain threshold but that is a moving goalpost depending on what space you are in. It’s gross but that’s how it works :/

        Glad I could offer at least a little insight though and am also glad to know that you got the issue (at least it seems to me) resolved.

        Liked by 1 person

      • oh I really appreciated your insight, I wrote this mostly because I wanted to hear from others about this topic. Thank you for reading and leaving such thoughtful responses!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just chiming in here to say that in terms of copyright law, you charging money for it usually does not matter. It depends on the what license the copyrighted work is under.
      If the license allows derivative work for all purposes, even commercial, you’re fine. If it allows derivative works for personal non commercial uses, then you can’t sell it but you’re otherwise fine. Most works say “all rights reserved”, which means you don’t legally have the right to use their copyrighted material for anything at all, unless it comes under fair use, which means it has to be for the purpose of critique or parody.
      Most fanart, fan fiction etc of characters and series owned by large studios who reserve all their rights ARE infringing on that studio’s copyright, whether they are for sale or just simply for personal use.
      The reason individuals are very rarely taken to court over copyright infringement for, say, drawing fanart of Disney characters or Bleach characters for their own personal use, is that it’s small potatoes and it’s a very bad look for the company. It makes them look like a huge giant bullying creative fans.

      Fan works aren’t protected by the law (unless it falls under fair use, such as parody or critique) so much as they’re protected by large companies not wanting the bad press they’ll get if they go around suing their fans for creating fan works. Technically it is their legal right to do so but it would be a dick move and we all know it, you shouldn’t punish your fans for being passionate and wanting to make fan works of your series (as long as they’re not damaging your brand or cutting into your merchandising profits significantly, which your dolls weren’t).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for chiming in! I appreciate all this great insight from everyone! I think in this situation it was a combination of a lot of things, most importantly the timing. I made the dolls in 2017, just a year after the series aired and YOI fever was still very much alive, so they were most likely monitoring the IP pretty closely (I checked yesterday and there are some dolls on Etsy with a similar naming that are still up for purchase).

        Like you said, Funimation was fully within their rights to hit me with the DMCA, it was just frustrating as a small time creator. But, it is what it is, I learned a lot from the experience, and now I can look back on the whole thing and laugh.

        Like

  4. Was it copyright or trademark infringement? Copyright in essence is legal right to produce, reproduce, sell or license, publish or perform an original work or a substantial part of it.

    Part of the issue usually is that you are profiting from a copyrighted property without a license to do so. Which in turn can be used to argue that you are devaluing said licenses. If you can profit from branded merch without having to pay, why should anyone?

    Most copyright holders will not pursue their exclusive rights because 1) suing your own fans is very bad pr and likely to cost you way more in the long run than anything you could make by going after an individual and 2) “inspired” products are a form of free publicity and a lot of people consider that a fair trade. They are not however completely wrong form what I can tell.

    Although profiting from the work is not required to be considered infringement, it does make it easier to claim damages so it tends to annoy holders more. Also as Jon pointed out you did use the copyrighted name when promoting the product which is another no no.

    However you’re also unlucky in that Yuri On Ice is one of the most aggressively protected animes out there for some reason. A lot of creators have gotten cease and desists regarding YoI works, even when they weren’t profiting. Some overeager IP intern may have gotten their hands on that particular file and is really milking it.

    Cosplay with no marketing implication wouldn’t infringe. Cosplay of a copyrighted character used to promote and event would be potential infringement. Cosplay picture of a copyrighted character for sale are in a grey zone as the intellectual property of the copyright of the character sort of clashes with the intellectual property of the photograph. I’m not sure what the jurisprudence on it is but it’s an interesting question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate the insight from folks with more of a legal background than myself. So this is a great response.

      Hindsight is definitely 20/20 with this situation and you and Jon definitely brought up some great points regarding copyright law and where fan works fall within that purview.

      To answer your question, it was a copyright infringement notice from FUNimation Entertainment (I believe there is a screenshot on the tweet I included in the post).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This makes me mad. I hate Funimation for other reasons, but I hated it when they did this to you. This is something I would expect with Disney. I’m afraid what they could go other people if they tried to do this on you.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That stinks. I don’t know much about copyright laws, I always figured Funi had rights to English Dub titled anime like Dragon Ball Z, Fairy Tail and others.

        I don’t mind, but it’s a long story. There are some reasons why I don’t like Funimation, but I briefly tell two reasons. One they do questionable stuff with anime like changing English translation in the sub and dub. Another reason, they got someone I like fired. I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you with details and I don’t want you to paragraphs of my rant haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah, it’s a fine line. A lot of companies may slightly look away in certain circumstances, or they may go after a very small-time offender. Just like how police may let someone going 15mph over the speed limit and then decide 5 minutes later to pull over someone doing 2mph. Both are technically wrong, but you just never know what will draw their attention/ire or if it’s a random thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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