Cosplay was not the centre of attention for once at the recent MCM Expo in London, when the copyright licensors of Tokyo Ghoul and Attack on Titan toured the dealers’ room in a carnival of garbage collection, rooting out and confiscating an estimated £20,000 worth of unlicensed merchandise. The unexpected entourage included reps from a Japanese company, the UK’s Anime Limited, a lawyer with a Powers of Attorney notice, and a trio of minions to cart away the swag. By the time the sweep was over, several dealers were shown the door with the full approval of MCM’s management, and the enforcers actually ran out of bin bags, leading to the delicious irony of a bootleg Tokyo Ghoul carry-all being commandeered to lug illegal Tokyo Ghoul merchandise
Gone are the days when some guy from Hong Kong could set up stall in a Birmingham hotel and flog a few lopsided Totoro knock-offs to fans on their way to the masquerade. In the last decade, industry and fandom have increasingly met each other halfway; MCM has become a prime retail location for copyright holders to sell direct to their punters, and to demand the right to do so without facing illegal competition. Meanwhile, such massive consumer events rely upon the continued cooperation of the anime business for guests, exclusives and the purchase of retail space. If you’re looking for pirate goods, MCM is definitely and officially the wrong place
“The first time we found someone [selling such items],” said Anime Limited’s Andrew Partridge, “I wondered if they knew what they were doing. By the time we took action I was sure of why and realised how much they made off selling products that hadn’t even been on the same island as the original creators, ever!” Notably, however, the legal powers invoked in this case only applies to two licences. There is plenty of scope for future clampdowns, although hopefully the dealers have already got the message
An assistant from one of the knock-off dealers, who asked not to be named, said that he appreciated the issues involved, although he considered the public shame of bin-bagging in full view to have been “a bit heavy-handed.” He noted that an equally pressing issue at some events has often been the unlicensed use of fan art on some dealers’ merchandise, and he hoped that the authorities would soon be policing that, too. But where will the small-time fan artists get their legal muscle….?
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #145, 2015.