Is this the Beginning of the End for the Print Mongers?

March 22nd, 2016 | Posted in General


I just got back from the C2E2 comic-con in Chicago. Lots of fun, and very busy. It’s a great show that is much more comic-centric than the Wizard World shows.

As usual at these sorts of event, there were many exhibitors in Artist’s Alley on the main floor with gigantic walls of “prints” of copyrighted characters the artists do not have the right to draw or sell. I use the term “print” loosely as the majority of them are inkjet prints from their home computer or copies run off on heavier paper at Staples, not professionally produced art prints or limited in number. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, so I won’t rehash it all here. Suffice it to say many people cannot understand why companies like DC, Marvel, Disney and others that hold the copyrights to these characters continue to allow these print mongers to keep cashing in on their characters and properties.

This article from The Comics Beat suggests that there might be a change in the air regarding the blatant copyright infringement at these shows. In brief, the folks organizing this weekend’s Wondercon convention in Los Angeles sent this letter out to all exhibitors:

Dear xxxx,

WonderCon takes the issue of copyright infringement very seriously. Exhibitors who violate copyright law run the risk of arrest and prosecution. Each year representatives from MPAA, RIAA, and law enforcement agencies are present at WonderCon to enforce copyright licenses and arrest violators. 

We expect that, as in years past, there will be copyright holders and law enforcement at WonderCon looking for bootleg items and they will not be shy about enforcement. WonderCon does not knowingly allow the sale of unlicensed merchandise. We will cooperate completely with all law enforcement agencies. If you are unsure whether or not material you have is unlicensed, or otherwise illegal, we suggest that you do not bring those items with you to WonderCon. It is better to err on the safe side.

If you have any questions or require clarification on the contract, or policies of WonderCon and Comic-Con International in general, please feel free to contact us at (619) xxx-xxxx and ask for the Exhibits department.

The MPAA is the “Motion Picture Association of America” and the RIAA is the “Recording Industry Association of America”.  Given those specific organizations this may indicate that the focus will be more on illegal copies of films and music than the fan art print vendors. However as far as I know this is a first regarding a major comic-con taking a stand in writing against copyright infringement of any kind. Can this be a first step in a crackdown on the copyright infringing print mongers? It will be interesting to monitor reports during Wondercon to see if anyone gets confronted for selling unlicensed merchandise.

As most of you know, I have a couple of limited edition prints I sell at conventions and online. Parody being one of the exceptions to copyright, I feel I am firmly in the legal right to sell these prints. Lawyers for various movie studios or comic book companies may disagree, and it might be I will have to decide one day whether to stop doing these spoof prints or go to court to prove my case. Time will tell.



  1. I’m curious how much you paid for your character licence? Is it just a blanket cost or do you need a licence for each specific character/film franchise?

    • Tom Richmond says:

      As I mentioned in the post above, I believe my art falls under “parody” of the characters and properties depicted for many reasons:

      1. I’m clearly making fun of what is intended to be serious (or at least non-comedic) subject matter both visually and editorially.
      2. I am lampooning properties from many different studios and property owners, not a single source, because I am making artistic commentary on a genre not an individual film, show or actor so no one copyright holder can claim they are the source of the appeal of the art.
      3. This is a series of studies of how differently the same fictional character can be depicted through different ages and mediums. That make this an artistic expression with a purpose.
      4. These are limited edition prints, a recognized form of fine art and first amendment expression.
      5. I’m known (such as I am) for drawing caricatures and parodies of pop culture, films and TV for MAD. I’m demonstrating my skills in the only way possible, by drawing caricatures of people others will recognize so they can appreciate the caricature art… a print with caricatures of my neighbors would have no point of reference for a viewer.

      All that said, there may come a day when some copyright holder demands I stop creating this art… anyone can sue for anything. Then I’ll have a choice to take it to court to prove I am in the right, or not.

  2. Don Lee says:

    As expensive as that would be to establish, it would be interesting to see (the attempt to draw) the legal line between parody and exploitation. I recently saw zazzle take down prints-for-sale of a cartoon I did on veterans issues, on request from Fiat-Chrysler, on grounds of intellectual property. The cartoon included a more-or-less-accurate drawing of a Willys jeep. (Chrysler and its parent, FCA, own the Jeep brand)

    • Tom Richmond says:

      On demand printing sites like Zazzle, Cafe Press and similar are a different animal. They participate in the actual production of the products sold on their sites, and are no doubt eminently liable as co-defendents in any copyright infringement case. They also have the right to refuse to allow an item to be onsale on their site for any reason. I’ve heard they err on the side of caution and (usually) remove anything that they get notified by a copyright holder about infringing on a copyright. That places the onus on the seller to get a court to rule their product is a parody, rather than the other way around. Comic-Cons may end up doing this same thing if legal action is brought or seriously threatened. They may demand exhibitors remove questionable items for sale/display even if those items are arguably parody, and require those selling these items to get a court to say they are in the right. Who is going to do that?

  3. I had a cartoon image on Zazzle of a penguin playing a guitar, wearing a cape and sporting a hairdo similar to Elvis. The Presley estate came along, said it infringed on their intellectual property, and demanded it be removed. It wasn’t worth a court fight to me, but I think it was a pretty good stretch to say it was an infringement.

  4. Blake Henriksen says:

    I’m interested to hear whether or not WonderCon actually confronted any artists for their Fan Art. From what I’ve heard they did not.

  5. Steve C says:

    Would this affect art posted and sold on sites like RIPT, Tee Fury, etc I wonder?


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