Fan Art and Derivative Works: Legal and Cultural Dynamics in the Haikyu!! Fandom

By Pinravee Maranetra


The world of fan art and derivative works is a vibrant and integral part of modern fandoms, particularly in the anime community. For a popular series like “Haikyu!!”, these creations play a significant role in fan engagement and community building. However, they also sit at a complex intersection of intellectual property law and cultural practices. This article explores the legalities, licensors’ approaches, enforcement actions, cultural considerations, and community impacts associated with fan art and derivative works in the Haikyu!! fandom.

Haikyu is a popular anime series that follows the story of a high school volleyball team striving to reach the national tournament. The main character, Shoyo Hinata, is a determined and passionate player who dreams of becoming a great volleyball player despite his short stature. The anime explores themes of teamwork, friendship, and the challenges of pursuing one’s dreams in a competitive sports environment. It’s known for its exciting matches, character development, and inspiring moments.

Haikyu has gained popularity for its engaging storytelling, well-developed characters, and thrilling sports action. It captures the spirit of teamwork, perseverance, and the pursuit of dreams in the context of high school volleyball.

Legal Framework

Copyright Law and Derivative Works


  • Intellectual Property Rights: The creators of “Haikyu!!”, including the original manga author Haruichi Furudate, hold the copyright to the intellectual property. This encompasses the characters, storyline, setting, and any unique elements that define the world of “Haikyu!!”. The copyright grants them exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and create derivative works based on their original content.
  • Production Companies: The anime adaptation of “Haikyu” involves various production companies that also hold certain rights. These companies are typically granted licenses to produce and distribute the anime, and they might share some aspects of copyright ownership, particularly related to the audiovisual elements of the anime.

Derivative Works:

  • Definition and Legal Standing: Derivative works are creations that are based on or derived from an existing copyrighted work. This includes fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, and any other forms of creative expression that utilize characters, settings, or plots from “Haikyu”. According to copyright law, creating and distributing derivative works without the permission of the copyright holders is considered an infringement.
  • Unauthorized Adaptations: Fan art and fan fiction, while popular and widely accepted in fan communities, are technically unauthorized adaptations. This means that even though these works are celebrated within the community, they are produced without the explicit permission of the copyright holders. Legally, this places them in a grey area, as they infringe upon the exclusive rights granted to the original creators and licensors under copyright law.
  • Enforcement: While many licensors adopt a lenient approach towards non-commercial fan works, they reserve the right to enforce their copyrights. Enforcement can range from issuing cease and desist letters to taking legal action in more severe cases of infringement, particularly those involving commercial gain.

Licensors’ Approaches

Tolerance and Encouragement:

Community Engagement:

  • Fan Creations as Promotion: Many licensors, including those managing “Haikyu!!”, recognize the positive impact that fan-created works can have on the overall popularity and engagement of their series. Fan art, fan fiction, and other derivative works keep the community vibrant and active, often acting as a form of free promotion that expands the reach of the original content.
  • Encouraging Creativity: By tolerating or even unofficially encouraging non-commercial fan works, licensors foster a creative environment where fans feel appreciated and connected to the franchise. This approach helps build a loyal fanbase that remains engaged with the series between official releases.

Unofficial Guidelines:

  • Setting Boundaries: Some licensors provide unofficial guidelines to help fans navigate what is acceptable when creating and sharing derivative works. These guidelines typically allow for the creation and distribution of fan art and fan fiction as long as they are not used for commercial purposes.
  • Promoting Respectful Use: These guidelines serve to educate fans about respecting intellectual property rights while still enjoying creative freedom. They often encourage sharing on personal websites, social media, and fan sites, as long as the works are credited properly and not sold for profit.

 Guidelines and Policies:

Specific Policies:

  • Explicit Permissions: Certain companies take a more formal approach by issuing specific policies regarding fan creations. These policies might explicitly state that fan art can be shared online and used in fan events, provided it is non-commercial. For example, they may allow fans to create and display art at conventions but restrict the sale of these works.
  • Clear Communication: By clearly communicating what is permitted, licensors help fans understand the boundaries within which they can safely create and share their works. This transparency helps prevent misunderstandings and potential conflicts between fans and rights holders.

Platform Policies:

  • Non-Commercial Hosting: Websites dedicated to fan creations, such as Archive of Our Own (AO3), operate under terms that align with the expectations of rights holders. These platforms typically require that all fan works posted be non-commercial and credit the original creators.
  • Supportive Environments: Such platforms provide a supportive space for fans to share their derivative works without fear of legal repercussions, as long as they adhere to the non-commercial stipulation. This encourages a thriving online community where fans can express their creativity while respecting the rights of the original creators.

Enforcement of Rights

Selective Enforcement:

  • Non-Commercial Use: Licensors generally tolerate non-commercial fan art and fan fiction because these works are seen as non-threatening to their intellectual property and often beneficial in maintaining an engaged fan community. Non-commercial fan creations are viewed as a form of free advertising that can increase the series’ popularity and longevity.
  • Commercial Use: When fan creations are sold for profit, licensors are more likely to intervene. Unauthorized commercial use can dilute the market for official merchandise and negatively impact revenue. It can also harm the brand’s reputation if the quality of the fan-created products is inconsistent with the official offerings.
  • Legal Actions: To protect their commercial interests, licensors often take action against unauthorized sales. Common enforcement measures include issuing cease and desist letters or filing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices. These steps aim to halt the commercial exploitation of their intellectual property quickly and effectively.

Cease and Desist Letters:

Initial Steps

  • Licensors often begin with cease and desist letters as a preliminary measure to address unauthorized use. These letters formally request the infringing party to stop their activities without escalating to immediate legal action. The goal is to resolve the issue amicably and prevent further infringement.

Platform Compliance

  • Online Platforms: Online platforms such as Etsy, Redbubble*, and even social media sites typically comply with these requests to avoid legal complications. These platforms have policies in place to handle DMCA takedown notices, which licensors can leverage to remove infringing content swiftly.
  • Effective Management: This compliance makes cease and desist letters an effective way for licensors to manage unauthorized commercial use. Platforms’ adherence to these notices ensures that infringing items are taken down promptly, protecting the licensors’ intellectual property rights without prolonged legal battles.
  • Repeat Infringers: For users who repeatedly infringe on copyrights, platforms may take stricter measures, such as suspending or banning accounts, to prevent ongoing violations and maintain compliance with copyright laws.

Fair Use

Understanding Fair Use:

  • Fair use allows copyrighted material to be used for purposes such as criticism, commentary, and scholarship, with non-commercial and transformative uses being favored. Fan art and fiction often fall under non-commercial use, supporting fair use claims, especially when they add new creative elements and do not negatively affect the market for the original work.

Cultural Considerations

Doujinshi Culture:

  • Japan’s Approach: The doujinshi culture in Japan allows fans to create and sell self-published works, including manga, artbooks, and merchandise, based on their favorite series. This practice is generally tolerated by rights holders due to its community-oriented nature. Doujinshi events and circles serve as important community hubs where fans can share their passion for a series, interact with fellow fans, and support independent creators. Rights holders often view doujinshi as providing free promotion for their series, as well as valuable feedback from the fan community. As a result, they may turn a blind eye to the unauthorized use of their intellectual property within this context.

Fan Conventions:

  • Regulated Sales: At fan conventions, the sale of fan art is often regulated. Organizers may have agreements with licensors to ensure that fan art sales do not compete directly with official merchandise and adhere to specific guidelines.

Impact on Community Relations

Balancing Act:

  • Allowing non-commercial fan works and actively engaging with the fan community fosters positive relationships, builds loyalty, and organically promotes the franchise. Conversely, aggressive enforcement of IP rights can lead to backlash and alienate core fans. Balancing enforcement with community engagement is essential for maintaining a healthy and supportive fanbase.


Navigating the world of fan art and derivative works involves a delicate balance between protecting intellectual property rights and fostering a vibrant fan community. For the creators and licensors of Haikyu, this means selectively enforcing their rights while often tolerating or even encouraging non-commercial fan activities. By understanding and respecting the cultural practices of the fan community, licensors can maintain positive relationships with fans, ultimately benefiting the franchise as a whole. This approach not only protects the creators’ interests but also ensures that the fan culture surrounding Haikyu continues to thrive.

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