As long as Super Art Fight is involved with Katsucon in some form or another, I will most likely return to the convention year after year. However, if I were on my own and making up my con schedule for the new year, I’d seriously consider not returning to Katsucon until they lift their fan art policy.
The Policy In Question
In an email sent to artist alley participants, Katsuchan (I will now replace the word “con” with “chan” for any con that has “con” in their name) President Paul Blotkamp outlined the specifics of the new policy. I will not quote the thing in its entirety, but these opening paragraphs serve to explain the policy:
As many of you have surmised, Katsucon has been working towards a goal of all original art for a few years now. The policies have changed from year to year as a means to gradually phase out fan art, rather than eliminating it all at once. But circumstances have forced us to move up our timetable.
Once again, I would like to stress that we are not changing policies just to be difficult. We are trying to be compliant with existing copyright and trademark laws. I also want to reiterate that it is not our intention to investigate every table, looking for fan art. But if someone comes up to us and says “Table X is selling fan art”, then we are bound to act on that information.
If and when someone tells us that an artist is selling fan art, we will ask the artist whether they have received permission from the original creator(s) for the art. If not, we will ask the artist to remove that art from their table. If we see or hear about that art a second time, then the artist will be ejected from the Marketplace. So we will give you one warning.
But why are we making a big deal about fan art at all? Well, we have become increasingly aware of the laws regarding copyrights and trademarks. Without going into boring detail, here is the gist of the matter from Section 106 of Title 17 of the United States Code.
The owner of copyright has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize:
(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
Later in the message, he goes on to explain how parody works fall under the same statute and states that in effect, “even if you never show a derivative work you create to anyone, it is still technically a violation of the copyright.”
Without getting too deep in the legalese of the matter, technically, this is all correct. Anytime you do fan art or sell fan art, unless you get express permission from the copyright owner or license holder, technically you are breaking the law. I suspect parody is actually protected since we see examples of parody every week on Saturday Night Live, but I won’t even bother.
Technically speaking, the Katsuchans are following the letter of the law.
However, if we are going to talk of derivative work, it doesn’t get much more derivative than Anime Music Videos and Cosplay. Neither Cosplayers nor Anime Music Video producers get permission from copyright owners or license holders to create their works and display them for public. It’s even worse in the case of Anime Music Videos because not only are they violating copyright laws regarding the anime they are using, they are violating music performance laws by using music without any licenses.
It would be one thing if the Katsuchan policy was enforced equally for every participant in the con. But the policy will only be enforced against artists. Artists must abide by copyright laws, but somehow Cosplayers and Anime Music Videos are protected? This stinks of hypocrisy at its finest. Which I guess should be expected from a convention so close to D.C.
The Comiket Factor
I suspect that if you actually asked the anime producers or manga-ka who create the original works in the first place if they care if American fans create and sell pieces based on their properties, they would shrug and go on their merry way. In Japan, fan art and fan comics, doujinshi, are celebrated twice a year at Comiket, the largest comic conventions in Japan.
Fan work created by aspiring artists and even some established names are sold exclusively at Comiket. Some artists make their entire annual salaries at Comiket. Many established creators got their early start doing doujinshi.
Fan work is an established tradition in manga and anime culture. To deny it is to deny the very thing U.S. anime conventions were created to celebrate.
The Comic Con Factor
But we needn’t look overseas for examples of a thriving fan art culture. Every year at San Diego Comic Con, you will see amateur and professional artists selling fan work based on intellectual property whose owners are mere steps away. Now in the case of many of the professionals, they are indeed given permission by the copyright holders to create those works. The amateurs, not so much. But no one cares because it’s understood that to break in to the business, sometimes you might have to draw a Spider-Man or two.
Like the doujin creators at Comiket, there are some amateurs who are able to make a decent enough living selling their fan works at Comic Con. You could argue that in some respects, they are taking money from the original copyright holders. And yet, it still goes on. It’s an accepted practice that has become part of the culture of Comic Con.
Licensing Killed Fandom
Anime cons used to be the only place that most people could actually watch anime. Early anime cons showed bootleg VHS tapes of anime and few had subtitles. Vendors sold original language manga and videos and bootleg subtitled versions that were made by fans who knew Japanese. Some even tried their hand at creating their own manga. It was a great time for fandom.
And then the licensors came to cash in on this fervent fandom. The scene changed. And while its great that now you can purchase legal copies of manga and anime, the license holders have killed off one of the most endearing aspects of the anime and manga culture. Fan art.
License holders jealously guard the titles they paid for. It’s not unheard of for license holders to send out cease-and-desist notices to American fans creating derivative works. Sure, they’re within their legal rights. But it’s doubtful that a fifteen year old kid selling prints of Edward Elric at an artist alley table is really cutting in to the profits of Funimation. And if it is, maybe Funimation should hire the kid. Must be doing something right.
This is Not the Katsuchans I Remember
Anime cons used to be a haven for fan created work. Now it seems like they’re more interested in covering their asses.
The Katsuchan policy is a typical cover-you-ass move. But it’s being applied unequally. If fan artists are breaking the law, Cosplayers and Anime Music Video producers are also creating prohibited works. Either all fandom is prohibited from the Katsuchan or all fandom is protected at Katsuchan.
“Oh, but you can’t get rid of the AMVs or Cosplay! The kids freaking love them! Those are the heart of the convention!”
Guess what. So’s the Artist Alley.
It irritates me to no end that Katsuchan doesn’t see this hypocrisy.