Case Crusaders are a phone case-selling company, which sell their wares at a number of comic cons, including ACE Comic Con, Fan EXPO Canada, Fan EXPO Dallas and Rhode Island Comic Con.
Well, friend-of-Bleeding Cool, comic book and movie poster artist Diana Greenhalgh, and regular convention guest and exhibitor, attended Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend. She was selling copies of her Fox-commissioned Deadpool Movie teaser poster from 2015.
This will be the last time she attends the Rose City Comic Con. She told Bleeding Cool why.
I had a couple of young fans come by my table on the Friday. They loved my Deadpool movie poster but I was by the entrance, so they'd just come in and hadn't seen much yet. A couple of hours later, they came back and one of them shows me he bought a new phone case with my Deadpool on it.
I quickly explained to them that it was a bootleg, and they asked me what they should do. I asked them if they could come with me to speak to the show staff to show them the case and if they could please me show me where the booth was.
When I got a staff lead (black shirt at the show) at registration she told me one of the floor leads (Paula, in charge of artist alley) was currently putting out another "fire" and that there had already been two copyright complaints by other people before me. We all waited for Paula. Paula pulled in Joe (floor manager for vendors), Joe mentioned they knew that vendor, knew the owner personally and suggested he probably didn't know what was happening. He asked me to go to the booth and just look and see if any of my other art was there. He wanted me to make sure that was the only piece of mine being bootlegged. The teens led me there, I took those photos and we walked back. Paula and Joe were nowhere to be found.
We eventually found Ron (Paula's husband, and my point of contact as a guest, he's guest coordinator). Ron told me they were headed to the show office to call the vendor. He then asked me if I had proof I had rights to sell the piece. He said they wouldn't be able to do anything unless I could prove I had those rights, even though I reminded him that regardless, intellectual copyright applied here. I had to dig up 3-year-old emails from my boss at Fox that proved I had their explicit permission to merchandise my poster art. I forwarded it to him as he asked.
By then, I'm just furious. I've never been asked by a show to prove I had rights to a piece of my work, in defense of a bootleg vendor. The teens actually GAVE me the case in case I needed it as proof. I gave them some pins and thanked them.
He said they would "update" me soon. They did not. I got an email from Ron on Friday evening that they were "waiting for an update from the vendor".
I came in Saturday morning and my art was still on display and being sold. I shot those videos and went back to my table. At this point, news was already making the rounds on Twitter that Rose City CC staff were treating all of the copyright violations in the same manner.
Fast forward to about halfway into Saturday. Joe comes by my table and he's holding one of the cases. He tells me they'd had the vendor take them down. I asked why the vendor hadn't been removed. Joe insisted that it didn't warrant their removal but hey, they just "wouldn't invite them back next year" and denied anyone saying there'd been other copyright complaints. He considered the matter settled. I did not and made it clear I would be speaking publicly about this after the show and I would not be returning in the future. He promised they would be checking the booth throughout the day to make sure they didn't put them back up.
Friends and some collectors/fans by now knew about this, and a few offered to check for me. On Sunday, one of them decided to ask them if they had any more Deadpool. The vendor worker pulled out two. Mine and another. Told the guy they "had to pull these" and offered them for purchase to him. He came back to me to let me know. It was too late to try tracking down staff and I had zero faith they'd actually do anything at this point.
The exhibitor application contract for Rose City Comic Con, states that those found to be bootlegging "may be asked to leave or to cease sale of said materials" – the use of 'may' rather than 'will' leaves a lot of wiggle room.
Case Crusaders did not reply to enquiries. Ron Brister, the founder of Rose City Comic Con, however, did. He told Bleeding Cool,
At all of our conventions we provide a forum for the sale of fan merchandise including a lot of wonderful original artwork. Our policies are intended to protect the integrity of intellectual property and we spend months ahead of each show curating applications from artists and vendors who provide samples of their wholesale and original pieces.
Per our policies, whenever there is a complaint regarding the providence of work we ask artists and vendors to provide proof of viability and unfortunately sometimes that proof is not readily available on the busy show floor. That said, when we were approached this weekend with such a complaint, our team facilitated contact with local law enforcement in a timely manner per the artist's request. The artist provided sufficient evidence of their complaint to the accused vendor who decided on their own to pull the product from sale and remove it from the facility. Per law enforcement's guidance any civil complaint related to exclusivity of the artwork will need to be taken up separately by the artist.
We do our best to maintain a high quality experience for everyone involved in our shows – and that absolutely includes our artists. We update our policies as necessary and this incident will inform decisions made by our legal team moving forward.
Diana disputes some of the timeline and details here – the police declined to get involved as they consider it a civil manner. And that this occurred after she had flagged Ron Brister down and he told her Paula and Joe had headed to the show office. She then hailed two Portland PD officers present in the lobby walking by them to see if they could help. She had no contact with the vendor owner, forwarded Ron the "proof" e-mail he told her he needed and as far as she knows, they contacted the vendor owner by phone…
Hopefully, this will indeed inform future decisions at the show… but Diana won't be there to see them. Of course, she is not alone in feeling this way at the show…