I hate to break it to you, but Pokémon is absolutely not royalty free. Nintendo and The Pokémon Company aggressively protect their intellectual property and will come after you for unauthorized use. I‘ll explore exactly what you can and can‘t legally do with Pokémon IP to avoid getting slapped with a lawsuit.
Let‘s start from the beginning – Pokémon is a copyrighted brand worth over $100 billion dollars. It‘s the highest grossing media franchise of all time. As you can imagine, Nintendo doesn‘t mess around when protecting their golden Pikachu. Any use of Pokémon content for commercial purposes without permission is begging for legal action.
I‘ll cover the specifics in detail here, but the bottom line is you need to be extremely careful about how you use Pokémon IP. I don‘t want to see you get sued! Avoid the temptation to use that cute Pikachu in your Etsy store or to make a fan game. Nintendo‘s army of high-priced lawyers will come crashing down on you faster than a Thunderbolt from the rare Shiny Raichu.
Let‘s explore exactly what you can and can‘t legally do with Pokémon IP as a fan so you don‘t end up in the courtroom:
Selling Pokémon Merch? Don‘t Tempt Fate
Have you ever thought about selling homemade Pokémon shirts, keychains, or other gear on Etsy or at conventions? I totally understand the appeal, but legally it‘s a terrible idea. The Pokémon Company does not allow any commercial use of their intellectual property without an official license.
This franchise is worth over $100 billion. Do you think they‘ll tolerate fans nibbling away at their merch profits? Not a chance. Nintendo sics their lawyers on anyone trying to make money off unauthorized Pokémon goods. Small-time creators and artists are not immune.
Fan art is especially dangerous territory. Even if you love drawing cute Pokémon like Togepi or Squirtle, you simply cannot legally sell this work without permission from The Pokémon Company. Don‘t risk the legal nightmare of getting sued! I recommend sticking to original creations instead.
YouTube Videos Can Deal Critical Damage
We‘ve all searched for "try not to sing pokemon theme song challenge" on YouTube. Pokémon is deeply ingrained in fan culture online. But content creators need to be very mindful of copyright rules when using Pokémon IP.
Game footage, official music, or full episodes are protected. Relying too heavily on them risks a copyright strike or your video being blocked entirely. Fair use laws allow brief snippets for commentary, but avoid overdoing it.
Nintendo also pursues large channels making ad money from excessive unauthorized Pokémon content. Even a YouTube Channel with millions of fans isn‘t safe from the wrath of copyright law. Tread carefully.
Pokémon-Inspired Games Won‘t End Well
As a gamer myself, I totally get the appeal of creating a Pokémon-inspired game. Catching and battling cute creatures is fun! But developing an unlicensed game using Pokémon‘s copyrighted characters, names, or other IP is never legally sound.
Even if you don‘t charge money, these fangames inevitably get slammed with a cease & desist from Nintendo‘s lawyers. The company does not tolerate its prized IP being used without permission for someone else‘s game.
For example, a fan game called Pokémon Uranium with 9 years of development was shut down despite not earning any money. The lesson here is that passion and good intentions won‘t stop Nintendo from protecting the Pokémon copyright. Don‘t risk it!
Streaming Creates New Copyright Concerns
Live streaming Pokémon gameplay on Twitch or YouTube Live has become hugely popular. But this trend comes with its own copyright considerations under the law.
Extended streams featuring Pokémon music or imagery could still violate IP rights. The safest approach is to minimize reliance on copyrighted assets and add your own unique voice and gameplay.
Large streamers also risk DMCA takedowns or demonetization if their channels lean too hard into unlicensed Pokémon content. You want fans coming for your personality, not just gameplay clips.
Lawsuits for Big Money are Common
To give you an idea of how serious Nintendo is about copyright protection, here are some real lawsuits they‘ve filed against Pokémon infringers:
In 2021, The Pokémon Company sued Chinese mobile game developers for $72 million in damages over copyright violations. The game copied Pokémon‘s story, characters, and more.
Fan game creator Jacob Johnson received a $300,000 judgement against him for copyright and trademark infringement over his Pokémon fan game.
In 2020, two ROM distributors were ordered to pay $2.1 million to Nintendo for illegally copying Pokémon games online.
The potential damages from civil lawsuits can be staggering. Do not assume you‘ll just get a slap on the wrist for using Pokémon IP without permission. Companies like Nintendo want to scare off infringers.
Derivative Works Require Licensing
Here‘s some key knowledge about copyright law – only the original IP owner has the right to produce "derivative works." These are creative extensions of the original IP, like fan art, games, music remixes, and more.
So only The Pokémon Company can legally create new Pokémon characters, stories, games, or art without special permission. These special licenses to create derivatives are almost never granted to fans or small creators. You have no right to make Pokémon fan content for commercial use.
Fair Use Has Limits
You may think brief Pokémon clips in your YouTube video falls under fair use copyright exceptions. But experts say fair use only provides thin protection in cases of IP this valuable. Quoting a Pokémon legal specialist:
"Given the tremendous commercial value of the Pokémon copyrights and trademarks, it‘s unlikely that a court would permit extensive quotations and reproductions even in an educational work or social commentary."
The bottom line is you shouldn‘t rely too heavily on Pokémon IP in your own creations, even under fair use. It puts you at major legal risk.
Look, I hate being the bearer of bad news here. As a fellow fan, I know how hard it is to resist using Pokémon IP in creative projects. Who wouldn‘t want to see their favorite Pokémon in awesome fan art or games?
But the cold hard truth is that Nintendo aggressively protects their copyrights and trademarks on the Pokémon brand. Even if you‘re a small-time creator, they won‘t hesitate to hit you with scary legal action for unlicensed use of Pokémon characters or elements.
We all need to stay mindful of IP rights and not put a target on our backs. There are ways to safely express your Pokémon fandom without ending up in court! Let this guide help you avoid the pain of an expensive lawsuit. Now go catch ‘em all – legally!