Artist Alley Controversy Brewing At This Year’s Otakon

Otakon is the first con to announce a “no fanart” policy for their Artist Alley, which outlaws the selling of commissions or prints that utilize any depictions of copyrighted material, even though the artwork involved is original and not a reproduction of any actual existing images (think Inuyasha on a Chocobo).

The issues relevant to webcomics relate to the possible banning of “sprite comics” or any comics that utilize depictions of copyrighted properties to tell their stories. If “fanart” is banned, then these most certainly fall under that distinction.

Copyright is a very important area, but Otakon’s absolute position will now prohibit many of the usual activities of a con that are expected by the attendees in regard to artists (such as being able to commission original artwork of their favorite characters), along with setting up a precedent that threatens Anime Music Videos, Cosplay competitions, and the appearance of many webcomics.

The webcomic and it’s affiliated artists have been spearheading an inquiry into a major change announced on the Otakon Anime Con forums in regard to fanart that affects almost every artist involved with their Artist Alley, and also many webcomics by extension. Any questioning of this policy by Artists and interested parties has been deleted or modded on the Otakon forum, therefore squelching any form of debate. has taken the discussion of this major issue in an unedited, uncensored fashion to their forum site in this thread.

As a major convention Otakon has the ability to influence the entire con scene, therefore debate on this change is paramount. is starting a major campaign to inform artists and the community on this issue, please check their news page and their forums for information as it develops.



  1. I dont see the problem. If an artist has the rights to use the images, then they don’t have to worry about it. If they’re using other people’s works for their own financial gain (ie: stealing) then they got no rights to complain.

    I dont see how it could affect anything else.

  2. This is one con out of a brazillion anime cons. They could have decided to do this merely for the promotional value. This is getting posted and reposted everywhere. Just kidding sort-of, I know a lot of cons wrestle with this question every year. It’s treated as a grey area of enforcement even if the law is rather black and white.

    The arguement is that in Japan the anime/manga culture has a flourishing doujinshi business. But US laws and enforcement policies are different than other countries, such as, say Japan.

    If a comic (sprite or not) is using a copyrighted character then they are in violation already. So why should any art using characters without permission be sellable?

    And what about all the guys drawing DC and Marvel characters at comic cons? Do they have special permission?

    So it goes back to what Mr. G said, if they don’t have permission to use the characters they can’t really complain if Otakon (or anyone else) goes through with the ban.

  3. It’s a good intention of Otakon to start turning up the pressure on folks who only do fanart (non-parody third-party reproduction artwork) to not only get permission (and forcing particular producers to produce a fanart policy), but also to get those folk to branch out.

    Comic Genesis discurages sprite comics that are not hand pixel pushed.

  4. And what about all the guys drawing DC and Marvel characters at comic cons? Do they have special permission?

    It’s actually a mite bit more complicate then TWG’s black n’ white post. You’ve got several issues going on and several lenses to use: legal, cultural, moral.

    I don’t know what the right answer is myself. Legally at least in the U.S. an incredibly huge amount of fan behaviour is technically illegal. Costumes, sketches, public display of books, movies, etc., – all of this can only be done with the permission of the (c) holder. Hell Disney has sued day care centers for painting a disney character on a wall mural. But we all know this activity exists.

    Culturally – different parts of the world and different “parts” of creative community/industries have different norms about what’s acceptable which doesn’t necessarily coincide with legal lines. You’re much more apt to get sued for (C) infringement by Disney for example then if you reworked a Cory Doctorow novel. And with the changes in technology leading more people to do more creating and making that available (at least potentially) to a worldwide audience running smackdab against the tide of extending and increasing copyright holders rights (the term extensions alone have kept nothing new from entering the public domain for most of the 20th century. That in and of itself suggests the system is seriously out of whack)

    So this con’s action is a response to the literal, maximal interpretation of current US copyright law. Did they do it on their own initiative – did companies decide to use them as a test case? Don’t know. Don’t blame a con’s owners for not wanting to tangle with litigious copyright holding corporation though. What is interesting is whether or not this behavior – these activities really should be morally and culturally acceptable or not. I suspect much of this stuff is not something that should be covered by copyright as it does not impact anyone’s perception of the original work and it doesn’t impact the ability of the copyright holder to profit from their actual work.

    But that’s imagining that the legal contours of copyright law would actually respond to moral and cultural debate as opposed to corporate campaign donations…

  5. I’d also note that Otakon’s president has said that the “no fanart rule” is undergoing legal review to nail it down properly. Hold off your comments until you’ve read the entire thread.

    Second, it only applies to the Artists Alley. The Art Show has it’s own different rules. The AMV are already licenced and covered, therefore are not affected. Cosplay forums, etc are not affected. This is a clarification of an AA policy!

  6. I just read all ten pages in the Otakon forum and a few other forums of outraged artists. The sky isn’t falling. Here’s how I see it.

    There is finally, later on in the thread, a very reasonable post by the AA person about what they will crack down on. Just like in the real world outside of the Artist Alley some things that technically break the law aren’t worth enforcing. They are trying to prioritize what is worth enforcing. That’s all. They are not banning fan art totally. If anything they are banning the word fanart from their policies and replacing it in more specific terms.

    Cosplay costumes technically break the copyright/trademark rules but there apparently have never been complaints either. AMVs are interesting because the video makers tend not to mind but the music companies do. So Otakon buys a performance license for music. Not the letter of the law, but the rights holders allow it. And that’s the point – the rights holders generally allow it.

    Selling anything with characters whose rights are owned by others and you do not have the permission to use cannot be made legal. But the anime/manga companies have traditionally allowed a large grey area to exist. It’s still not legal but they have no intent to enforce. Otakon is actually trying protect this grey area by protecting the companies and artists from being blatently abused. And protecting the dealers of licensed products in the dealer room. If done correctly everyone wins. But you get people complaining that they won’t be able to sell 1000 buttons with fanart they drew any more. Right, that crosses a line where they should buy a license and go to a dealer. Or do something else because that is hurting officially licensed product sales. Selling an original piece of fanart is going to go under the radar because that is a unique piece. Even selling a few prints of that picture might be okay, but you never know nowdays.

    I guess my long-winded point being that as long as the industry allows certain things to fall in a non-prosecuted grey area then the conventions will also. Otakon wants a better legal definition of how to protect themselves when people try to abuse that grey area. I totally understand their position. Finally. Ten pages of forum posts later. 😛

  7. Technically this is more about Trademark Law than actual copyright, but your questions still apply. I wondered if the US comic companies allowed a similar grey area to exist and I guess they do.

    The AA chief admitted it was what he wanted to do and the other staff supported it. Not because of pressure, but to just stay clear of trouble. The changes are not as Draconian as first feared, apparently, anyway. So the final version of the rules are being anxiously awaited. But it all comes down to a matter of what the anime/manga companies are willing to allow to continue to exist versus people trying to take advantage of the AA “freedom”.

  8. We started the whole inquiry into this issue for a few reasons:

    1. The stated reason for the change was that they were attempting to preserve copyright related issues and “doing the right thing”, but only in regard to the Artists, and not to examine the other areas of the con that obviously break copyright law (like the AMV’s and cosplay competitions, and actually the video rooms) we just wanted to open this up to debate over if this was a consistent policy

    2. Silencing of dissent. The forums were being routinely modded to delete any post, no matter how reasonable, that disagreed with the decision. If a con is for the fans, then maybe it should allow them to speak. We can understand modding if it’s curse filled or personal attacks, but in many cases it was done just to silence a differing viewpoint.

    3. Direct affect on our affiliated artists. Anyone who has been in any Artist Alley knows that 75% or more of the work done there is commissions based on drawings of anime characters in custom poses. In most cases the artists are barely making any money, or just enough to pay for getting to the con. So to eliminate what most Artist Alley visitors want, while also really doing nothing to preserve the intent of Copyright law, which is to protect companies from monatary loss, seemed arbitrarily vindictive. Especially when the argument supplied by the AA director was an entirely emotional based one and had nothing to do with anything related to horrible infringement or rampant abuse happening in the AA.

    We are not trying to destroy or disparage Otakon, we just think this type of change is an important one to examine, especially with Otakon’s size and influence on the entire scene.

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