Monday, October 06, 2014

Convetions and Legal Issues

Ever curious where you can find the Black Market? Try Artists Alley.

Artists at a convention have always had a fun relationship with the law. Although a lot of artists are there selling products that they own with images that they wholly own, including the characters, you have a lot of others that are using characters that they have no real right to. You can break it down to three issues: fan art, counterfeiters, and unlicensed printers. I'm going to ignore fan art; we all acknowledge it's illegal but it's ignored as long as it stays small. It's the other two that make for some interesting conversations.

Although there are a couple of famous ones, there are a lot of counterfeiters in any given convention. Counterfeiters are a particular evil at a convention because nothing sucks more than putting a lot effort into finding what you thought was a really cool souvenir of someone you really wanted something from only to find out that it wasn't. A person who illegally forges money only creates an inconvenience; a person who forges a signature ruins a life so heavily valued are our memories. It gets worse when artwork from a famous artist is forged; the person deserves to be run out of the convention, and they usually are. Before buying, make sure you do your research on both the seller and the items being sold. When buying, avoid the high pressure and "recently unearthed artwork"; great art sells itself, and artwork with mysterious origins should always be questioned. Just remember that you have no one else but your own self to blame if you pick up bad artwork.

I'm really not sure where to stand when it comes to prints of fan art, however good it is. POD publishers have pretty much given up on it, leaving it to the rights owners to police; most companies don't mind it as long as it doesn't become too big as it works for some great advertising. The probem is that there some gray area, as there is some debate as to whether it is considered derivative artwork or copyright infringement. The latter is patently illegal and opens up the seller to some serious litigation, while the former is allowed under a number of jurisdictions; the idea is to provide a reasonable loophole for smaller sellers to provide a non-competitive means of providing competition in order to keep local markets thriving. Although there are some issues with originality, there are some incredible fanartists out there, especially among the furry community.

Derivative works were originally applied more to crafts than artwork. Local craftsmen would develop a variation on a major manufacturer's invention and want to sell it; the classic example is a boat with a slightly different prow that would work well for the local waters. Lawmakers listened and so derivative works laws were born. Eventually artists would figure it out and apply the concept to their individual art.

There's been some great stuff coming from derivative works. Probably the best example I can think of are the T-shirts combining the TARDIS with Disney Princesses. The problem is the old issue when it comes to forgers (and I'm not comparing them to forgers): These are usually people that have some serious creative talent, and it would be interesting to see what they could to do if they attacked the art world with their own ideas. So while I think that there is a lot of cool stuff being done as derivative works, I would love to see them do a lot more of their own work. Obviously the derivative works, just like the fanart, is way too profitable to ignore.

So with that said, encourage your artists, with your dollars going to the best artists regardless of the origin of their works and beware the fakes. Now I need to go find a T-shirt...Meridia would make a scary Companion. But then again Romana was my favorite. Hey! There it is!

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