Pin artist Purrv86 to cease sale of Steven Universe fan pins
Tuesday Bassen’s lawyer says fan pins are often technically art theft
Last week, the artist known as Purrv86 made a difficult decision.
She decided that soon, she’ll no longer sell her popular line of “Steven Universe” Diamond Mural pins.
“After receiving an email from someone who will remain nameless…” She wrote in an Instagram post Thursday, “I have decided to discontinue the Diamond Mural Pins. The reorder of Blue and Yellow will be the last batch I’ll sell.”
There are four different pins in the series, each representing a different Diamond character from the Cartoon Network animated series “Steven Universe”: White Diamond, Yellow Diamond, Blue Diamond and Pink Diamond. In the show, the Diamonds are powerful matriarchs, and appear in four huge murals the main characters encounter when visiting the Diamonds’ home planet.
“I just remember seeing the Diamond Murals in the episode ‘It Could’ve Been Great’ and I just thought that they looked amazing,” she said. “Some time later I thought, wouldn’t it be grand to have them decorating your accessories, showing off their beauty?”
The change of heart was sudden. Just the day before her announcement, the artist, who asked that her name not be disclosed, had shared that a reorder of one of the pins in the series had arrived and was now available for sale in her Etsy store.
The person who had emailed Purrv86 accused her of art theft, and that discussion left a sour taste in her mouth, she said. So while she hadn’t been asked by Cartoon Network or show creator Rebecca Sugar to pull the plug on her pin sales, Purrv8 said she thinks it’s the best course of action.
“I did sketch the designs and tweaked them so that they worked as a pin,” she said. “But it was a valid point. It was based on someone else’s work, and it would give fan artists bad reps.”
In a community where artists are constantly putting their own spin on their favorite moments in pop culture, with more “fan” pins being added to Etsy everyday, this brings up the topic of counterfeiting, copyright infringement and art theft. Where is the line that determines what is legally acceptable for artists to create in homage to the things they like, and what constitutes the theft of someone else’s work or intellectual property?
“What constitutes art theft, as a general question, is a matter of opinion and a difficult question to answer” said Brandon Dorsky, a Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer. “It’s misappropriation of someone else’s work or intellectual property that substitutes for theirown independent creation.”
Dorsky represented artist Tuesday Bassen in her 2016 lawsuit against the fast fashion giant Zara, and routinely takes cases involving copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and rights of publicity.
Technically, he said, fan pins could be considered to be art theft in some cases, but often big brands or intellectual property owners don’t go after artists making and selling homages to their favorite pop culture properties for multiple reasons.
“Making your ‘Rick and Morty’ pin, and selling it, that’s committing infringement and committing art theft,” he said. “But unless you’re doing something in great magnitude, the likelihood of even receiving a cease and desist letter is not very high. They (brands) don’t have an agent policing every lot at every festival, or going on Etsy pages.”
Dorksy also said that seldom will the average person see a well-known design, and mistake an artist creating fan pins as the original creator of that character, place, or idea.
Copyright as a legal construct tries to allow for the creation of new copyrights on the back of existing copyright — so that there’s room for artistic interpretation, he said.
“To most people, art theft is, in essence, taking thework of another artist and passing it off as your own, in a way that the original artist could have monetized or exploited” he explained. “For example, if an artist is using Mickey as a character on merchandise to make and sell new merchandise, that has the flavors of art theft and copyright infringement. But, if an artist used Mickey Mouse to make a parodic commentary on Disney as a whole in an art piece – that should not be considered art theft or copyright infringement.”
Online culture has made it easier than ever for fans to find communities, and to engage in those communities by creating and sharing works of their own. But that has also meant that the line between creator and fan has gotten blurrier and blurrier — and for many creators like Purrv86, that has meant artists may find themselves navigating tricky legal and ethical territory.