For years, there have been rumors of Marvel and Dc shutting down the countless unauthorized prints, t-shirts and sketchbooks sold at conventions featuring licensed characters. While a few people have been shut down for doing something egregious, it’s mostly been a “look the other way” thing, as The Big Two don’t want to be seen as horrible corporations stealing food from the mouths of poor artists. Even Star Wars, now owned by Disney, has been pretty lax about enforcing these obvious copyright infractions. Word on the street is that eventually the crack down will come, and I know some artists have been more circumspect about how they sell their work. And don’t get me started on places like Teepublic that sell merchandise with copyrighted characters.
The entire movement is an outgrowth of designer toys, indie t-shirts and Tumblr and you can’t go two social media links without seeing, for instance, some variation on the Disney Princesses, such as Anoosha Syed’s Disney Princesses as Modern Girls, above (which are actually gorgeous; check out more of her work here.) Appropriation is the fuel that keeps the cars of pop culture running. And while spreading awareness of characters is an argument for allowing the fan art, it does seem to be a glaring exception to the corporatization of art.
I ran across a couple of links about this of late. Artist Manuel A. Carmona just says stop doing it:
Today I’m going to talk about something I’ve been saying for a while but has come to the forefront in a big way in the last few years, and that is; artists selling unlicensed prints at conventions of properties they down’t own. As an artist myself, I’m all for artists making money doing what they love to do; but when my colleagues decide to use properties that don’t belong to them and make money off of it… I have a problem with that. Now I know this is a tricky situation because artists have a hard time catching the attention of fans at conventions, mostly because these fans are mostly looking for established properties and/or visit the cons to Cosplay; but that’s no excuse to steal. Yes you read that right, if you sell prints of characters that don’t belong to you regardless of haw many you sell; you’re stealing. Btw, I’m not here to judge anyone; I’m just stating the facts
Carmona suggests developing original characters, sharing costs and doing other things to just bring down costs and live without that sweet unauthorized loot. The comments are filled with arguments for and against with no clear cut winners.
The other thing that jogged my mind on this was a story in the Toy Fair issue of The Licensing Book, a trade magazine for the licensing industry. I can’t quote it but I tried to embed the story here, an interview with two execs from Choice Collectibles, an authorized Disney license. This may be a bit hard to read, but basically, Choice Collectibles’ Ari Goldman and Ben Berman are highly annoyed by all the unlicensed artwork out there, but have no choice but to go along with Marvel/Disney’s “compassion” for artists:
I don’t think Goldman and Berman come off too well here, but it’s interesting that Marvel hear complaints from official licensers and continues to look the other way. It’s obvious that everyone involved knows the horse is out of the barn and running free and strong with a herd of beautiful wild mustangs; corralling these mustangs into a dusty barnyard presents problems of its own, not least of all optics that go against today’s view of art and artists. And so the battle rages.
Source: The Licensing Book
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.