If the art business charges for the class, that covers physical materials and the teacher/student service exchange of mentor-ship, that's a given. I know selling obvious renditions of other people's characters is infringement, regardless of whether it's a plagiarized copy or a unique inspired-by piece. But what if it's a fully labeled painting of that character and it's completed by the person paying for the lesson? Is that somehow okay, or is it still the teacher profiting from their painting design and instruction of the character? It just seems to me like if self-completed works cannot be sold, then consumer-completed works guided by someone who made fan art is also in violation of profiting from a character that is not their own. I've just seen some people do super generic ones such as a "superhero" that isn't necessarily recognizable as a branded character, whereas other instructors will hold a class to paint "Superman" which is obviously copyrighted. It just doesn't seem legal to piggyback off someone else's success even if it is just a small business, because there is still substantial profit involved and people pay more for a character they know than a generic theme.
Generally, there may be arguments of at least, liability for inducement of copyright infringement.
You should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
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Commercialization does not matter for infringement. Essentially, if the students reproduce a copyrighted work then the students are infringing. The business would be inducing the infringement, the students would be direct infringers. Where commercial use would come in is if a fair use defense were asserted. Education is a favored use and one of four fair use factors. An accredited school would be favored, and a commercial use would be less favored. It would be better to use public domain or licensed characters. The specific facts should be reviewed by an intellectual property lawyer.
This answer is written to explain situations which may come up involving intellectual property law issues. It does not give specific legal advice about specific fact situations. If you have a specific fact situation in mind you should ask for professional legal advice about the relevant facts. Seemingly minor changes in facts may change a legal opinion dramatically. Space here does not permit an explanation of all the variables in complex legal areas. Dave Brezina is an Illinois lawyer and his profession is regulated under the authority of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Although he represents clients nationally and internationally, his law practice is performed in Illinois and is not subject to regulation by other states. Dave Brezina is also a Registered Patent Attorney and a patent practice is regulated by the US Patent and Trademark Office a Federal agency and is not subject to regulation by the states. The firm, Ladas & Parry, LLP, has attorneys admitted and offices in at least Illinois, New York and California. Finally, do not post confidential information. There is no an attorney client relationship created simply by correspondence or communication with the author of this site.
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