Faking It

mcm imageCosplay 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.

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14 thoughts on “Faking It

  1. “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.”

    Er, they already have been, at least at MCM shows. This has been an ongoing issue in Comic Village for nearly five years, with fan art prints now being outright banned. They’re just catching up with the dealer tables now.

    I agree that the very public way they went about it was not great, but don’t use it as an excuse to go “but other people are getting away with it!”

  2. Just to make a point on the “assistant’s” comment:

    UK legislation states that a person is not liable for copyright infringement if the use amounts to fair dealing for the purposes of:

    – non-commercial research or private study
    – criticism or review
    – reporting current events
    – illustration for instruction, quotation, or parody, caricature or pastiche

    Of course, fanart comes under illustration pastiche and is therefore legal under UK law.

    • That’s right, Mynk, although the assistant’s complaint was about the illegitimate and illegal appropriation of fan art by third parties to sell on their own goods, much as innocent fansubbers were sometimes co-opted by full-on pirates.

  3. Finally! Someone understands. They should crack down on everyone that makes money from even fan art related to copyrighted characters. There is nothing more disgusting than seeing stalls at anime conventions where people have drawn Naruto or other famous anime characters and actually profited from it. It should be stopped!

    It’s one thing to draw your fav character and share it with people… but selling it… HELL NO!

  4. “some guy from Hong Kong”? What does a vendor getting booted out of a convention for selling bootleg have to do with guys that you think are from Hong Kong?

    Did you go and ask every vendor who was selling bootlegs during “the days” if they were from Hong Kong??

    What are you trying to demonize here? People who look like they’re from Hong Kong, or people selling bootleg items regardless of country of origin?

    Of course people should be removed from a convention if they’re selling bootleg items, but why are you bringing Hong Kong into this? Do I need to mention that Americans are obese every time I want to write an article about gun violence in America? Because that’s what you’re doing.

    • It’s not what I am doing at all, skim makin, and I’m disappointed by your trigger-happy readiness to play the race card. I’m actually referring to a specific guy who came from Hong Kong and would sell merchandise in a Birmingham hotel. His name was M**** and he was S***** T***’s boyfriend.

      Back in the 1990s, which was when this was, conventions were easier on piracy, and I think buyers were less informed. I myself once inadvertently reviewed two Taiwanese knock-offs in Anime UK magazine, and was taken to task for doing so. I call them Taiwanese knock-offs, by the way, because they were knock-offs from Taiwan.

      But thanks anyway for scurrying onto twitter and denouncing me as “openly racist against Asians”.

  5. So what does this mean for the small artists that sell at these conventions then? Will they be publicly humiliated and expelled for selling a print or charm of there original drawing of Naruto or whoever, or are they only cracking down on the a**’s that are selling the straight photocopied prints/canvases, knock off bags and t-shirts?

    • What indeed, Xana? It will be a very difficult policy document to word in such a fashion as to please all parties. My next Neo column but one will also be dealing with an additional legal spanner, which may be soon chucked into the works.

          • The real issue here is the industrialisation of fannish processes. Nobody really cares that much if a bunch of teenagers get together and pretend to be on the Starship Enterprise in a home-made video. But if they crowd-source a million-dollar movie budget, it stops being an amateur endeavour. Similarly, Toei are unlikely to give much of a toss if you draw a picture of Naruto on your bag. But if you draw a really *good* picture of Naruto, and someone then takes that design and prints it onto a thousand bags that they then sell, this enters a new realm of law.

          • I know there were rumours of Marvel/Disney cracking down on small artists that are selling limited prints of their fan art at conventions. Was getting a bit worried that is an extension of that.
            I do remember there being ‘sellers’ at glasgow comic-con that were selling canvases of all sorts, from comic covers to fan art, and had removed the watermarks. In large numbers really cheap. These ass hats I can understand them cracking down on, there stealing from everyone -.-

  6. “If you’re looking for pirate goods, MCM is definitely and officially the wrong place”
    Sorry, this made me laugh, MCM is DEFINITELY and OFFICIALLY the MAIN place where pirate goods are sold, my personal favorite being the official event retailer of sword replicas, of which the majority are bootleg, unlicensed or unofficial.

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