Create Your Own Otaku Senshi: A Sailor Moon Fan-Character Help Site

Legalities of Otaku Senshi

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I am not trained in law. The explanation below is derived from my understanding of US Copyright law and may not apply to persons living outside of the United States and its territories.

Some people feel that otaku senshi violate copyright, yet a simple review of US Copyright laws reveals that this is not likely the case. Naoko created Sailor Moon and created the concept of a sailor senshi. All of the fixed characters, places, attacks, etc. in Sailor Moon canon belong to Naoko. However, the concept of a sailor senshi - a girl in a school-girl outfit using magic to fight evil - can be expanded upon by fans by creating otaku senshi which are derivative works of Naoko's original story and characters while still remaining Naoko's property.

It is important to note that one does not have to register their creations to have copyright protections take effect in the United States. Copyright comes into effect whenever you create something that is 'fixed in a tangible form of expression' (profiles, web pages, digital images etc. are considered 'tangible' as well).

Artwork created of these characters belongs to the artist that made the image. If you, or another artist, create an image of your otaku senshi from scratch, that image is copyright to the artist as soon as the artist makes it. This is important because occasionally, a fan that doesn't know this will use an original fanart image on their profile or website as their own character image. Not only is this bad etiquette and very misleading, it also violates copyright if the artist did not give permission for the image to be reposted. Using people's art work without their permission is illegal and can result in legal action, so it's always best to not to edit or use fanart images without written permission from the artist.

Images created by editing coloring book images or JPG images of canon characters might not share this foothold of certainty regarding copyright. In fact, edits of commercial images violates copyright as well (though, it's presently unclear if that is also the case for coloring book images since they are published with the intend of someone manipulating them). It is therefore suggested that otaku senshi creators make their character images from scratch or request such an image from another artist. This this the best way to ensure your rights to the character's image.

Otaku senshi are a form of derivative work and as such, they are protected by the United States Copyright Office (sorry for those of you that live outside the US, I don't know about copyright in other parts of the world). Please read this excerpt from US Copyright Office Web Page on derivative works:
"A 'derivative work,' that is, a work that is based on (or derived from) one or more already existing works, is copyrightable if it includes what the copyright law calls an "original work of authorship." Derivative works, also known as "new versions," include such works as translations, musical arrangements, dramatizations, fictionalizations, art reproductions, and condensations. Any work in which the editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications represent, as a whole, an original work of authorship is a derivative work or new version.

A typical example of a derivative work received for registration in the Copyright Office is one that is primarily a new work but incorporates some previously published material. This previously published material makes the work a derivative work under the copyright law.

To be copyrightable, a derivative work must be different enough from the original to be regarded as a "new work" or must contain a substantial amount of new material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify the work as a new version for copyright purposes. The new material must be original and copyrightable in itself. Titles, short phrases, and format, for example, are not copyrightable."
In simple terms, this except states that versions of Sailor Moon-based stories that are significantly different from the original story are considered derivative works. Creating your own character with her own history, mission, outfit, attacks, and story certainly qualifies under that definition. That being said, when you create an otaku senshi, you therefore 'own' that character. Technically, if anyone uses images of your character, her profile, or story without your permission there may be grounds for legal action. However, just as the Jedi belongs to George Lucas and the Power Rangers belong to Disney, the concept of a sailor senshi does still belong to Naoko Takeuchi.

It's very likely that if one tried to produce a Sailor Moon fanfiction as an anime in the US, companies wouldn't be keen on it due to the legal issues that may arise. As internet fanfiction writers, we are a bit more under the radar. Keep in mind that any use of characters or places from the original copyrighted Sailor Moon story (such as Tsukino Usagi, Sailor Mars, Helios, Crystal Tokyo, Galaxy Cauldron, etc.) in a profile or fanfiction is probably a technical violation of copyright. Those characters and place belong to Naoko, and many of us use them without permission. Fortunately, since most of us aren't making any kind of profit on these characters, it's rather unlikely we would face any lawsuits. For more information on fanfiction and it's relation to copyright, please check out this site.

Respect is very important in any community. To learn about respect and acceptable behavior regarding the otaku senshi community, please see the Etiquette section of this site.

Much thanks to Kaifaire for her input on the legal information.