Fan-made products have become a staple for fans who want to support their favorite artists with affordable alternatives. Often the creators who make products for fans work independently to create, produce and ship the final products.
This alternative is not meant to dominate an industry of tacky corporate-provided official merchandise. These are fans showing their love for their favorite works of art through a deeper and more meaningful creative output.
However, the gray area around the legality of creating pop culture-inspired merchandise limits the platforms and ways fans can share and sell their fan art.
In a Pencil Kings podcast, Seth Polansky, an intellectual property lawyer, describes this gray area as individuals who can get away with counterfeiting as long as it doesn’t outweigh the costs for the “big guys.” If someone is flying under the radar and not accumulating a large sum of money, they are unlikely to be brought to justice as it becomes more costly for both parties involved.
Farzeen Alam, a general studio arts student, started making and selling her K-pop group prints in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She showcases her art and other products on her Instagram @farzeen_art.
She said her designs started with her love for boy band, One Direction and naturally shifted to K-pop groups like BTS. However, Alam said they ran into copyright issues while making their inventory.
“I had an Etsy shop and it was shut down because of these copyright issues, so you would have to create a whole other website if you want to sell fan art,” Alam said. “But I don’t think it’s that important yet because there’s always an alternative.”
A significant reason fans engage in creating art and merchandise is that they are dissatisfied with overpriced official merchandise that lacks original designs. In an MTV article, fans creating Harry Styles-inspired merchandise shared their disappointment at the limited-edition “Watermelon Sugar” that used the same photo that was slapped on t-shirts, tote bags and hats. Beach towels.
Fans of the article argued that instead of spending money on shoddy products, fans should support each other in small businesses. Additionally, fans who are looking for meaningful and thoughtful merchandise also benefit from buying from small shops run by other fans.
“When you see the prices, the official merch is so much more expensive than the fan-merch,” Alam said. “I think it’s as good as official merch because there are people designing official merch and fan-merch so whatever you like, you should buy it; it doesn’t matter if it’s fan-merch or an official product.
Alam said fan-made merchandise is a creative way to earn money while pursuing her artistic passion. However, one problem independent businesses seem to have is being downplayed by customers who underestimate the amount of work that goes into running their stores.
“It takes up a good chunk of my time because I have to do the actual drawings and then I have to scan them,” Alam said. “When I do prints, I do them in big collages, so I have to put everything on myself, and then I also do the keychains and all that by hand, so it takes a lot of time.”
She added that before K-pop, Alam used to take art commissions and underpay people to please them.
“Some people don’t understand that it takes time, energy, and also money because art materials are very expensive,” Alam said.
With the rise of TikTok generated by the confinement in 2020, it has become a powerful tool leading in the consumer market. According to an article by Handmade Seller, the videos that excel and get attention on Tik Tok are those that show behind the scenes of running a small business. When people can see the amount of work that goes into producing handmade items, they can feel more compelled to support the creator.
“I think social media is the biggest factor because people all over the world can see what you’re doing,” Alam said.
It’s safe to say that social media allows fans to connect globally. In addition to this, merchandise is also an essential element that binds fans to an artist or their fandom.
As long as fan-created merchandise or art is uniquely designed and inspired by their favorite artist or band, it should exist freely as an equal alternative to official merchandise.