The great unsanctioned print crackdown we predicted a few weeks ago may be roaring down the highway. The following letter has been sent to exhibitors and Artist Alley tablers for next week’s WonderCon:

Dear xxxx,

WonderCon takes the issue of copyright infringement very seriously. Exhibitors who violate copyright law run the risk of arrest and prosecution. Each year representatives from MPAA, RIAA, and law enforcement agencies are present at WonderCon to enforce copyright licenses and arrest violators. 

We expect that, as in years past, there will be copyright holders and law enforcement at WonderCon looking for bootleg items and they will not be shy about enforcement. WonderCon does not knowingly allow the sale of unlicensed merchandise. We will cooperate completely with all law enforcement agencies. If you are unsure whether or not material you have is unlicensed, or otherwise illegal, we suggest that you do not bring those items with you to WonderCon. It is better to err on the safe side.

If you have any questions or require clarification on the contract, or policies of WonderCon and Comic-Con International in general, please feel free to contact us at (619) xxx-xxxx and ask for the Exhibits department.

While the letter can caused a flurry of alarm on social media, the mention of the MPAA and RIAA suggest its specifically about bootleg movies and DVDs, which have been banned from most reputable cons for some time. WonderCon’s new location in LA makes industry scrutiny way more likely and that could be the reason for the letter.

Or it could be the beginning of the print crackdown. This notice could easily be expanded to include the unlicensed prints and occasionally other merch, t-shirts and the like, that are seen in every artist alley at every con around the world and which seem to be headed for a showdown at Copyright Violation Corral.

Marvel already has a program in place to give its artists some leeway in what they sell, this could become the norm as other companies take steps to shut down the most egregious violators.

Most people I talk to seem to hope that this hits the “Wall of prints” guys first. There are several of them and they tend to have immense displays of frankly not the best quality color xerox prints that loom over Artist Alley like the 2 for $10 socks booths at your local street fair. Bring down the entire tone.



  1. I can see this copyright issue getting hot quickly.

    But if it extends into Artist Alley, what’s an artist to do: someone wants you to draw Batman, so you refuse, and draw “Grampman” or “Dampman’ instead? That will never work.

    Hopefully this stops at the level of: do not reproduce the art from a comic cover and sell it on a T-Shirt or print.

  2. I doubt this will impact the sales of one-off commissions. Prints and sketchbooks might wind up in the crosshairs if TPTB get ambitious, though.

  3. Heidi, so you know I believe my convention, Dallas Comic Show, was actually the first to announce (a month ago) a strict no fan art policy. It’s been talked about and debated heavily on Facebook already, and now (this week) at least two other shows have posted similar policies. I’m hoping this is the first step in bringing back the better days of originality to artist alleys everywhere, but I can tell you, for every bit of positive feedback I saw from our announcement, I’ve seen just as much much confusion and anger. Even had a few threats. I believe a change is coming, and I also believe it’s much-needed.

  4. I went to a local Art Gallery in Cincinnati last night there was a few artist booths. All of them had prints you could buy of Superman, Spiderman etc etc. One artist had some paintings of Thor and others asking $65.00 up to $2.000 only a few things of his own…….

  5. Were I selling any Star Trek-related fan film materials, I would think twice before bringing any of those items to any convention anymore.

  6. I think it pertains to reproduction of art mostly. Especially in the dvd genre (of course). Artist sketches are Original Art.
    No big posters of cover art not licensed.
    Logically if they were to allow repro art someone could just print the whole book and sell it.
    Artists will quit the cons if they can’t do original art. The aggrangment/permisiions given to current paid artists doesn’t need to include non contract workers either.
    Will be interesting to see where it goes. As you may know Law is determined by lawsuits meaning someone has to sue someone before we find out what the actual laws do.

  7. People have been saying this will happen for eons now. It’ll likely be a good thing if it does, but I understand how Artist’s Alley folks wind up heading down this path. Selling one’s original work is hard. You’re competing for a very few dollars against everyone else you’re set up with, & buyers are way more likely to want a print or sketchbook w/ a character they are familiar with than one they don’t know, yet.

    I honestly think this will get applied more towards movies & other DVD’s for now. It would be a massive undertaking to actually police Artist’s Alley at every con, everywhere. But smart artists will get ahead of this curve, make their prints of either all original characters or parodies of mainstream ones that are enough off to keep them out of legal hot water. If you’re gonna do a sketchbook, don’t have it only be licensed heroes & put something original on the front.

    Last time I set up at a (teeny tiny local) show, I had some good-lookin’ original character comics, a few original art pieces & some hand-drawn greeting cards. I have a pretty good sales face. I made almost nothing, but the vendor set up next to me couldn’t keep up with her sales, which were all copyright violations. They weren’t poorly executed, but it’s tough to compete next to someone selling prints of Superman, Batman, the Minions, etc. If people have to choose between a luxury item purchase of a known quantity versus an unknown one, they’ll go with the familiar.

    Also curious whether “no fan art” policies will also apply to bigger & more famous artists. It would be crap if they cracked down on no-names while established talents – not all of whom have the “pass” of, they’ve worked on the material in question – still sell their sketchbooks, calendars, etc, with no consequences. I own a couple of Adam Hughes’ & J. Scott Campbell’s sketchbooks..would they have the same standard applied to them?

    Obviously this doesn’t & shouldn’t apply to original art commissions. Those are one-offs & shouldn’t be subject to laws about copyright / reproduction.

  8. i wonder if anyone ever goes into a bar a screams copyright infringement on a band playing cover songs? It’s an unfortunate truth about cons is that you are constantly making the effort to win over people in a pretty saturated market. I make self published comics that sell pretty well. Prints draw people in as they want to see how I draw the characters that they love – hopefully enough to be interested in my own work. The same way it works for that band playing cover songs at the bar. I would love to rely purely on sales of original characters, I just ask that table fees aren’t so ridiculously high for artists.

  9. The music analogy doesn’t hold because music operates under compulsory licensing. This means musicians can’t stop you from covering their stuff live and there’s a framework to pay for covers. Does every band pay the fees after doing a cover? No. But the process is straightforward and fining them is simple.

    With art, there is no “compulsory licensing” setup where artists can create without permission and then pay (or be fined if they fail to pay).

  10. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s certainly possible that people looking for copyright violators will use a few shows to enforce their copyrights to set an example. They can then just let the fear of prosecution act as a preventative measure.

    Also I don’t know that bootleg DVDs have been banned or stopped from being sold at shows. I’ve seen bootleg anime and TV show DVDs at most conventions I’ve been to in the last few years.

  11. “Does every band pay the fees after doing a cover? ” Actually, the way that music is set up, it is the venue rather than the band that pays for covers they’re doing in a bar somewhere. (The band does pay for recording covers.) This makes enforcement much easier, so odds are good that if you go into a bar and hear a cover, it’s being paid for.

  12. To get the music analogy right, I would equate playing a cover at the bar to doing a 1off comission, but the fan art prints are like a band selling a CD of only covers. The first one is tolerated; the second one is not.

    I would be more than happy if all cons stopped artists from selling prints of copyright characters unless it is work they did for a publisher. I should be able to get an Adi Granov print of an Iron Man cover, but Joe Schmoe should be able to sell his version.

    I used to not care that much, but the last time I was at FanExpo, I saw numerous booths that were just walls of prints of company owned IP, with nothing original from the artist. It’s gone too far and its time to push back.

  13. The sad truth of the matter is that no matter who you are, you will, at some point, be hassled by the Federal government. Obama has made sure that not even the noble smalltimee comic artist can make a living without the bloated fedral “burea-crazy”taking a cut and making us all into verytable slaves!

  14. This seems to be more about bootleg movies and TV shows than comic art prints. Oh… and Mr. Horse, very lovely way for you to make your anti-Obama message. Bravo, sir. I salute your tin foil hat.

  15. This will be applied to people making prints of others art and selling them , which I see all the time. It will also include products using copy written characters without permission. This is the start. As far as people drawing original commissions, that, i think, will be fine. I think this is a good thing because it might open up space at shows for people showcasing their original art and ideas.

  16. I like to advocate for two forms of micro licenses for fan artists. The first: Unapproved With Permission grants artists permission to use a library of characters, while distancing the license holder from the content created (for such instances as amateurish, hyper-violent, or pornographic artwork). The second and more expensive: Approved With Permission grants the same character uses but boasts the desirable stamp of approval by the license holder. If the micro-licenses are affordable, everybody wins. License holders receive payment for the use of their characters (even on artwork they wouldn’t approve), and fan artists can create content without fear of legislation.

    There is room enough for everyone to play here. We need to create inclusive solutions to this problem instead of dividing artists into industry professionals and criminals. I believe there is a better answer.

  17. It’s funny…every convention season I hear the same tired, played out arguments about fanart, and fanart prints. Yet (with a few exceptions) I always notice that most of the ire is directed towards the sellers in artist alley. I rarely hear any mention of the other two corners of this triangle: the big-name companies who actually own the material, and the consumers who buy it.
    Let’s start with the companies. Disney has owned Marvel for what, seven years now? And DC has been a subsidiary of Warner Bros. for almost 30 years! Yet in all of that time, neither Disney nor Warner has ever gone after any artists at any convention for selling fan art prints that were not licensed. (And it’s not as if they aren’t paying attention; just a few years ago Disney hammered a bunch of sellers on Etsy for making their own “Frozen” dolls and toys and selling them online). So why don’t they go after artist alley fan prints, you ask? The answer is simple. THEY DON’T CARE. They don’t care because there’s simply not enough money being made at cons by artists selling unlicensed fanart prints for them to care. It’s not worth their time. In fact, it will cost them more time and money to chase a bunch of amateur artists around the scores of Comic Cons going on every year and hand out Cease-and Desist orders than they could ever recoup by selling prints themselves. Until they see scores of Fanart sellers pulling in $20,000+ regularly, don’t expect to see them patrolling artists alley.
    And then there’s the consumers. Here’s an ugly truth for the Indy self-publisher guy tabling next to the “wall of prints” girl: The woman dressed as Harley Quinn buying five different Batman prints from her was probably never going to buy your comic, whether she was next to you or not. That woman doesn’t want your comic. She wants Batman prints. Consumers want what they want. If you can pitch them your work and make them want it, bravo. You kick ass. But if you can’t, it’s not the Fanart girl’s fault that she makes her table and you don’t. Find your audience, and work them. Her Fanart prints may outsell you at HeroesCon, but you may blow her out of the water at FLUKE and SPX.
    And I’m not sure, but I think that technically, commissioned art and sketches also fall under the category of Unlicensed art. If you want to be sure, here’s an expert on the subject:

  18. So I’m curious if anyone has heard whether or not WonderCon actually cracked down on people selling Fan Art. From what I’ve heard that did not happen.

  19. The main problem is that fan art is KILLING original content… period. Many Artists have stopped going to cons all together because they can’t stack up against the IP infringers. Yes, if you sell unlicensed merch, you personally are helping to kill original, creative comics.

  20. I am an Artist creator of all original work. Tables at cons sell out so fast i never get the chance to get a table. So people getting tables who have nothing but prints of other people’s work are taking away from my original work i’m trying to promote. Artist Alley should be for artist creating original work for the future of the industry and new idea’s in comics..

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