Miniatures - Casting miniatures - Copying existing miniatures - Laws, licences and legality

Article updated: 2019.11.21

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 owner is illegal.

If a sculptor wants to copy the designs of an existing intellectual property (IP), they need the IP holder's permission to do that. The way you create this copy (recast, 3D print, papercraft) doesn't matter in this regard. 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 to sculpt or print your own model, 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.)

According to the law, it might be illegal to copy, sell, offer to sell, use or import protected designs without a licence. Different countries might have different laws regarding some details, so always make sure about your legal standing if you wish to do any of the above.

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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.

Q16: Is it allowed to use a 3D printer to print a miniature?

Yes, it is, as long as it is an original design, and you have the licence to do so. There are some designs that you can use for free. For others, you might have to pay a licence fee, so always check the source of the 3D printer design. However, keep in mind, that you still can't print any designs without a licence.

Q17: Is it okay to create a 3D model of a design protected miniature if I don't use a 3D scanner, but just copy the design of the original by hand?

No, it's still theft. Counterfeiters also use their hands to trace models through a pantograph, but that doesn't make that any better. However, when the design protection runs out, you can create and use this method to create 3D printable models. You can even use a 3D scanner to do so. The only thing I'd recommend is to change the actual pose of the model if it's a posable miniature, to avoid confusion with an original.

Q18: There is a miniature I'd like to have, but it doesn't come in a pose I'd like to use. Is it okay to create a miniature based on the original design, but in a pose that is not produced? There is no way I could buy it from the company!

No, it's still not allowed without a licence. If you'd like a specific pose, buy the model and try to repose it. If you can't do it, ask a modeller to modify the original model. Commissioning a new sculpt or printing a 3D model of a design protected model is illegal. When the design is not protected any more, you are free to do so.

Q19: 3D printing has less limitations than recasting, so it must be okay to print protected designs!

There are some countries that allow 3D printing for personal use, but you can't give that print to anyone else. Make sure you are in one of those countries before you print your model.

Q20: There are countries that doesn't count it illegal to copy those models. Is it okay if I have them recasted or 3D printed there, then get it shipped to me?

No. If you live in a country that protects those designs, it's also illegal to buy from an unlicenced source, and it doesn't matter if the copy was made legally according to the laws of that place.


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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.

1d4chan: ChapterHouse Studios: Article about a copyight / trademark lawsuit, and ideas how to prevent that to happening to you.

Games Workshop Limited v. Chapterhouse Studios LLC: Court documents about the case.

Shipping Solutions: Importing Basics: Intellectual Property Rights: Article about IP rights.

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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