Simply put, any custom Playmat that is made using artwork from Magic, and other copyrighted intellectual property like it, is stealing money from the company and, most importantly, the artists that make the game.
A Brief History of Official Magic Playmats
When Wizards of the Coast first started making Playmats, they partnered up with UltraPro International and eventually agreed to an exclusive arrangement where they are given sole access to print all Playmats of Magic artwork.
When Magic first came out, playmats didn’t really exist, so Artist Proofs and Prints were the main merchandise agreed to in the original contracts.
As Magic grew, merchandising opportunities grew along with it: Deck Boxes, Binders, Sleeves, and, eventually, Playmats.
Due to artist requests and dedicated artist advocates within Wizards of the Coast, artists were eventually able to request a limited license to print playmats of approved Magic artworks. There is a process to follow and restrictions and stipulations involved, but the main ones are:
To make an official playmat, artists must risk many hundreds and often thousands of dollars in the hopes that the mats will sell. If they order 100 playmats and only 5 diehard fans buy one, they are out a significant amount of money. Obviously, some mats do better than others, but it’s a risk that they must take in advance, before they know if the mats will sell well enough to justify the layout.
Artists, and others like myself, are working hard to make these official mats available. Just because they haven’t yet made a playmat of the particular image you fancy doesn’t mean they aren’t planning to make it in the future, or, more importantly, that you have any right to make one on your own.
A Brief Introduction to Copyright (I am not a lawyer)
Copyright in the US essentially follows in this manner: if you create a piece of artwork, you own the exclusive rights to monetize that artwork.
For Magic art, Wizards of the Coast, and its parent company Hasbro, retain the copyright to every image (post-Mirage at least, things get a bit murkier with the early contracts) and only Wizards can decide what is done with the art, the only exclusion being the special licenses and privileges granted to the artists.
Artists illustrate for Magic on a “Work for Hire” basis, meaning their contracts transfer all copyrights for their artwork to Wizards of the Coast. Any additional useage on the artists’ part is only granted through the specific and limited allowances delineated in the contract
Copyright myths debunked:
This all boils down to one basic principle: If you make anything using Magic artwork, you are violating the copyright and could be held liable.
Not every artist has gotten on board with the Playmat process. Currently, I am working with several artists with the aim of making many great images available in official Playmat form.
Anyone that couldn’t wait and made their own are lost sales for me and the artists I work with. Money taken from the artist's pockets due to their impatience and disregard for others. Otherwise known as theft.
So, when I see comments like “the artist doesn’t have one available in their store, so I can make my own”, I understandably get a bit peeved. Ignorance and entitlement does not magically justify stealing.
The Role of Inked Gaming and Custom Playmats
Custom Playmats are a great thing. I have a stack of them by my desk as I write this.
Inked Gaming has popularized an avenue for players to express their style while playing the game of Magic. Providing a budget friendly opportunity for others to personalize their play space is an extremely positive development.
However, printing custom imagery also opens up additional opportunities for copyright infringement.
To get a better idea of how Inked is dealing with this problem, I spoke with the CEO of Inked Gaming, Thomas Pool.
First off, and most directly, can I upload and print Magic artwork through Inked's custom playmat service? If not, why not?
Per our terms and conditions, which you have to read and agree to when using our site, you need permission for use of any artwork you upload. So, before you upload the artwork from your favorite Magic card you will need to contact Wizards of the Coast and receive permission to do so.
The reason we have this rule is that copyright law is pretty complex and always changing. People seem to have the wrong view on it a lot of times. The safest way to make sure you don't deal with future issues is to always have permission from the copyright holder.
But the artist doesn't have it available on their site and Wizards hasn't made an official one either, what's the harm in printing my own mat if they haven't made one yet?
Just because an artist isn't currently selling the work doesn't mean they won't be in the future. If you are in love with a certain artwork, please contact the artist and let them know. They might have options for you.
What are the copyright issues involved with printing my own playmats of artwork from Magic and other copyrighted intellectual property?
There are laws to protect owners of art and by knowingly breaking those laws you are putting yourself at risk. Like I keep saying, the easiest way to protect yourself is not to use artwork you don't have permission for.
When a customer agrees to the terms and conditions of Inked for custom playmat printing, but uses artwork that infringes on the copyrights of others, what could be the possible consequences?
We take copyright infringement very seriously and don't condone anyone breaking our terms and conditions. Any customer that purposefully ignores our terms of service would be in breach of contract. Possible consequences could range from being banned from Inked Gaming to facing legal troubles and fines. It's a good idea to always take the time to read any terms and conditions you agree to for any site.
What is Inked doing to minimize the opportunity for infringement?
Inked Gaming is continuing to improve its efforts to catch infringing artwork during the upload process. We work with artists and owners to help stop their work from being used on our site. We catch and deny orders every week. We also have a Copyright and Trademark Policy that can be found in our Terms and Conditions for contacting us if you believe your work has been used on our site. We can then take that information and use it to help stop all future uses of that artwork. We have worked with several copyright holders already with this process.
We also now have over 1,000 different art pieces to choose from on our site, and growing every week. We want to provide customers with an option to find something they love. Also, they will be directly contributing to that artist. So, if you are tempted to use artwork without permission, I suggest instead looking to find a valid art that still gets you excited and also doesn't put you in any risk of legal trouble.
By now I’ve printed well over 2,000 playmats through Inked Gaming, so I’m glad to hear that their commitment to upholding the copyrights of Magic art is as high as the quality of their mats.
I’ll admit it, I have a dog in this fight. Partnering with Magic artists to create and sell official Playmats means I am much more interested in this issue than most Magic fans out there, and makes me much more vocal about infringement when I see it.
I’ve been a Magic player since 4 th Edition. Heck, I’ve built a business around my passion for Magic art. I know how great it would be to see a bunch of the Magic artwork out there in Playmat form and, here at OMA, I'm trying to make that happen.
In my mind, custom Magic playmats are stealing future sales from artists. If you feel similarly, feel free to tag me on Reddit or Twitter when you see someone talking about their new custom Magic mat they got printed from Inked or a similar company.
Not only is it an opportunity for education, but if others enjoy the mat, I can let the artist know and hopefully assist them in getting an official version printed. Instead of a single mat with the artist earning $0, we could get hundreds of that mat into loving hands while rewarding the artist appropriately for their efforts.
In the end, we all love Magic art and we all want our artists to keep making it. Together we can get more great artwork into the hands of even more fans.