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.
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.
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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