Everything wasn't all roses at Wizard World Portland for some creators in Artists Alley this year. Grumblings were heard about the slew of artists selling prints of other creators' characters at their tables. Some vendors complained that these intellectual property poachers took business away from people like them selling their own original works.
You've seen these guys with their towering racks of color Xerox pinups in the dozens, featuring the likes of Harley Quinn or Deadpool or Doctor Who, all for sale in the $10-$100 range. They do a lot of business at conventions. The problem is they don't own the characters they're drawing yet they traffic on the popularity of those characters in the art they sell. This is not fan art and it is not parody or covered by Fair Use rules.
These guys make no small amount of money either. One print vendor I spoke with this weekend said he will make about $3,600 after expenses like travel and his $750 tables. At some shows he nets as much as $10,000-$12,000. Meanwhile, a nearby comic creator said he was going to make a few hundred dollars from his original books and prints after his final tally.
Currently copyright owners such as Warner (DC) and Disney (Marvel) turn a blind eye to this misuse of their intellectual property. But how long can that last? At a recent convention, a Japanese rights holder stepped in to bust dealers selling pirated anime DVDs. How long before the hammer drops on these Con artists as well?
Now I know a lot of people aren't going to side with the big corporations that own the publishers but they do pay royalties to creators with the right deal. And creators should make money off the hard work that goes into their creations. Maybe it will take an ASCAP or BMI like organization, like the ones that enforce music rights, to bring these artists to heel. Or maybe nothing will be done at all. But they're actively altering the landscape of the convention floor and Artists Alley making the fight for dollars more fierce.