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When someone creates a miniature, they have the copyright to the mini, that is, the right to create copies of it. Creating copies without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal.

If sculptor wants to copy the designs of an existing intellectual property (IP), they need the IP holder's permission to do that. Copying the original designs without the licence is illegal. The law protects every design for a number of years. After it has passed, you can use the design but you still can't make physical copies of the originals.

I've seen several opinions and question on the internet about the legalities of copying miniatures, so I've collected some of them.

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The laws regarding the protection of works might differ from country to country, but the basics are usually similar in the Western world.

The design of the miniature is an industrial design. Industrial design is usually protected from being copied. After the protection time has passed, you can make copies. Until then you might create similar designs, if there is enough difference to make it an original design.

The original miniature itself is a sculpture, and it's the sculptor that has copyright, that he can sell to the producing company. However, as the design often doesn't belong to the sculptor, the reproduction of the design as a miniature can still be controlled by the company that owns the design.

The miniature that is sold in shops is a product, a reproduction of the sculpture.

(As a sidenote, there's often a debate about the legality of using photos of miniatures that are sold in shops. As they are considered sculptures, that are available to be seen for free, you can take photos of them, and publish them. If there are miniatures that can be only seen in places with entry fees, for example in a museum, they can set rules about taking photographs, as their revenue comes from the visitors, who wish to see the artworks, and if it's available elsewhere to see, it causes a loss for them.)

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Q1: Can I copy a miniature legally?

A1: Sure you can! Contact the copyright holder and ask for a written permission. The licence will state the conditions of the process.

Q2: Can I copy it without licence, if I don't create a mould from the original, but sculpt the miniature myself / create a 3D design and print it?

A2: It's still a counterfeit without a licence if the design is still protected by the law. If it's already in public domain, you have free licence to create your own designs.

Q3: Can I create casts without licence, if I don't make a mould of the whole miniature, just parts of it?

A3: No, the same law still applies.

Q4: The miniature is long out of print, is it okay to create copies of it?

A4: Unless the copyright owner didn't declare you can copy it freely, the same law applies. Even if the design of the miniature is public domain, the miniature itself can't be copied, but you can sculpt similar miniatures, using the original design.

Q5: Can I copy it if none gets a profit out of it? I won't sell it to anyone.

A5: No, it's not about the profit, the owner of the miniatures still loses revenue. If you'd buy it from them, you'd need to spend money. If you create a copy, you cheat this money from them.

Q6: Can I copy if for personal use?

A6: No, it's still stealing even if you don't share it with others.

Q7: Is it really illegal even if the copyright holder doesn't know?

A7: Yes, it's still illegal, they just won't pursue legal action because they don't know what you have done.

Q8: There are lots of people who copy miniatures, why couldn't I do the same?

A8: Even if they don't get caught, it's illegal, and you should keep that in mind.

Q9: Is it okay to cast copies if I don't consider it theft? / It can't be illegal, I don't feel bad about this. / My personal belief is that I'm allowed to do this.

A9: No, the law doesn't care about your thoughts. Legal issues still stand even if you don't have a clue about them.

Q10: The company doesn't sell the parts I need, just in expensive sets, so I can't get them cheap. There really is no other way, I have to make copies of them, isn't it so?

A10: As they are the copyright holders they can ask any price they would like. You don't need to pay them, but you also don't need to use that part. You can create your own or you can buy other variations that might be cheaper.

Q11: I bought the model originally, it just got lost / broken. I should be allowed to make a copy of it, isn't it so?

A11: When you buy a miniature, you get a licence to use it until you have it. However the normal licence doesn't allow you to create copies of the mini if it gets damaged. If it gets damaged during the guarantee period, you can contact the seller. Also, if it gets lost, you need to buy a new one, as the licence to use the mini doesn't cover this.

Q12: I've asked several of my friends, and they told me it's totally legal to create copies of my miniatures.

A12: They are mistaken, don't believe them.

Q13: I've heard that the company allows copying their miniatures, so it must be okay?

A13: It can happen, just make sure about this before you start casting minis. Look up the licence on their website. If you can't find one, write them an email and ask for a written permission.

The company in question was meant to be Games Workshop and while I don't know their current policies, I find it doubtful they would let people copy their sculpts. Here is their official statement regarding Games Workshop's Intellectual Property. To quote it:

"Do not cast or scan any materials based on Games Workshop’s IP. Reproduction for personal use is not an automatic exemption from copyright protection in many territories worldwide. Likewise, do not produce and distribute designs which substantially copy Games Workshop’s products (see ‘Imitations’ below)."

"We take counterfeiting very seriously as it ruins the hobby for everyone. Counterfeiters take advantage of our hobbyists and devalue both our products and your collections. We are committed to taking action against counterfeiters and to supporting victims of counterfeiting. "

"Producing copies of Games Workshop’s creations is an infringement of copyright; this includes copying a significant part of our creations. Making models which copy heavily from Games Workshop’s artwork, descriptions or products is therefore an infringement. Is it instantly recognisable as one of Games Workshop’s unique characters, creatures or vehicles? If so, it has likely copied a significant part and is therefore an infringement. Just because we haven’t gotten around to making the model yet doesn’t mean you can."

Q14: Ok, I get it, you can't cast copies of the model. But can I make papercraft models of them?

A14: The same principles apply to any kind of copy, no matter what material you use. If you copy someone's design without licence, it's illegal.

Q15: But I have seen companies upload papercraft files on their website, or publish them in magazines! If what you said would be true, I couldn't use these, isn't it so?

A15: When the company itself publishes the papercraft templates, they give you the licence to copy them. In published magazines you might even find an authorization that allows you to create photocopies of that page.

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Sources & tutorials

WikiPedia: Copyright: Article.

WikiPedia: Intellectual property: Article.

WikiPedia: International copyright treaties: Article.

WikiPedia: Industrial design right: Article.

WikiPedia: Industrial design rights in the European Union: Article.

Spikey Bits: The $40 Fake – Recast Knight Titan Review: Article about Chinese plastic recasts.

The Blue Bottle Tree: Copyright Guidelines for Polymer Clay Artists: Article about copyright and sculpting. Very thorough and informative.

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Are there still things you find unclear about copying copyrighted miniatures? Did I get something wrong? Tell is in the comments!

 

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