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Midwest FurFest's Dealers Den policy prohibits fan art, causes fan concerns

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Last Sunday, Canadian furry artist Nayel-ie brought to Twitter concerns about Midwest FurFest's rules for dealers, which state:

Midwest Furry Fandom Inc. prohibits the sale or offer for sale at Midwest FurFest of items that reproduce third parties’ intellectual property without the express written permission from the owner.
[...]
Prohibited are included but not limited to:

Unlicensed depictions of characters appearing in third parties' movies, TV shows, books, sound recordings, still images, sculptures or any other media. No fan art; no counterfeit goods.

The reaction to the policy's wording has been very negative, with many finding the the policy too extreme. The wording is more strict than Anthrocon's similar policy, which simply says that "pirated" material is prohibited. But the policy could offer more protection of the convention and content creators from possible legal liabilities. In the United States, fan art is derivative work, for which only the original copyright holder has distribution rights. There are "fair use" exceptions to this, as in parodies, and because "fair use" is determined on a case-by-case basis, fan art is a complicated subject in Intellectual Property law.

According to MFF's Twitter, the policy is not new, despite this it was clearly news to many members of the community. It's unlikely this restriction has ever been enforced heavily, and furries pointed out that fan art can be found in abundance at conventions. This makes determining the threshold for restricted fan art unclear. Furthermore, it's not apparent how this policy is handled, except that it is noted that failure to comply can result in loss of dealer privileges or even removal from the premises. MFF tweeted that its legal team is working to clear things up, and when reached to by Flayrah for comment, convention chair Rama reiterated MFF's goal to remove the ambiguity from the situation.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I think that's likely similar to most conventions. I think fan stuff is not allowed to be sold at Eurofurence either. I don't think they have any at the art show (or at least I can't recall any) and its pretty much non-existent at the dealer's den as well. I did get a vaporeon keyring there one year though but otherwise nearly all original stuff. It's similar for some publishers. I think InkedFur is an exception because there was a pokemon comic I wanted which is printed by InkedFur and is stocked by a European distributor but the comic is unlisted.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Right now I'm looking at a print on my wall, which I got from a non-furry convention, which depicts fan art of multiple comic book characters. I remember it was awash in fanart. I tried to check their website to see if they ad a similar policy, but it looks like they take it down and put up a new one every year, so I can't. But people stated in the comments of the twitter thread that MFF in particular usually has lots of fan art on display.

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MFF is just avoiding liability. Every inquiry into the provision makes them increasingly uncomfortable, because they do not really intend to ban fanart (hence the lack of enforcing). They only want to dodge possible litigation. They will never openly confess the provision's superficial reason to exist because doing so would defeat the purpose of having the provision.

People who are inquiring or complaining can't see it from the subtle perspective of a business owner / committee. They instead voice out the obvious fact that furry fandom is intertwined with fanart as a form of self-expression (something that everyone knows, including the MFF board).

I don't envy the pressure this puts on the MFF board. However, I hope the result of the pressure is not some wishy washy neutral boring settling statement that's forgotten, because copyright laws are a fucking joke as is, and the furry fandom should unapologetically be on the side of freedom to produce and exchange fanart.

My favored scenario would be an MFF that enforces copyright laws to a tee, having attendees pissed off, their attendance plummeting because of it, and being replaced with a different convention that isn't so frightened to uphold fanart as a rightful thing.

You're doing a public service MFF, never forget that.

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I think we've had enough conventions die, so I wouldn't agree with that. If IP holders go after MFF, then other conventions wouldn't get a pass either.

It is, as you say, putting the liability on the seller for them to be responsible if an IP holder goes after the convention because person at table A was selling said items. The staff could then just ban said individual from selling on a per individual basis.

Is it likely to happen? No particularly, there are larger fan cons to fry even with MFF being the largest furry one. However, it is something to note that if you are a dealer selling products that contain characters from majors corps that if they turn on you, you're going to be on your own and the con will probably distance themselves in interest of other sellers.

Rightness or Wrongness aside, it's always best to air on the side of caution, especially when money exchange is involved.

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Back in the 1990s, one of the furry image boards banned Sonic the Hedgehog fan art. The Web was still young, the big corporations hadn't yet learned to embrace their online fanbase, and no one in the fandom had what it took to fight off lawyers. The same concern hit another image board a few years later with Pokemon and Digimon art. The fandom's solution to this was to draw in the same artstyle, but to create original characters - Pokemorphs and Digimorphs.

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As I recall it wasn't banned because of copyright issues, it was banned because people were doing the equivalent of spamming. The same image uploaded 20 times or more with nothing changed but the coloring (often images that had been originally uploaded by somebody else). Storage cost a lot more then and they didn't want to become mainly a Sonic fan art site. They knew if they tried to put in limits they'd be dealing with rules lawyers and constant whining, so they simply banned it all. Maybe a little extreme, but justifiable at that time. Even with cheap storage and filtering tools, I've seen complaints on sites over the years about too much of X genre of art (Pokemon, MLP, etc) being uploaded.

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I think you might have been talking about different websites (certainly "Sonic-style" artists have a certain reputation), but at least in the case of rat.org, it was the lawyers that did it (source).

Your rating: None Average: 2.2 (5 votes)

The staff should not ban anyone from having fanart on their table, because the staff are not the police. Given the scenario, staff has to cooperate with law enforcement, not become law enforcement. They have no business becoming law enforcers. They aren't.

Whatever the law says the punishment should be for selling fanart (if it is illegal), that is what should happen, and be settled in a court of law. The law does not say "the offender shall be banned from the furry convention in which the selling took place". The law does not say "MFF staff will decide whether sellers breach copyright law".

It is obvious that the convention and its attendees have to follow the law, like anyone else on the planet. Any provision of the sort "no illegal things must happen in this convention" is redundant. No illegal things must happen anywhere, that's how law works. But if MFF's lawyers feel they need to overstate the obvious in their rules to cover their asses, they can simply cite copyright law or excerpts. "Fanart is forbidden" is a lousy badly written provision.

The other scenario I'd be satisfied with, is a provision that actually complies word for word with copyright laws, resembling any other neverending "terms of service agreement", full of technical jargon and a totally detached redaction, that makes it beyond obvious they don't really have a bad opinion on fanart, and can't give a shit about what Disney thinks, but are just pushed to follow retard copyright laws and "if something bad happens it's all your fault because law says you're a bad person".

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When I said they are covering their bases I wasn't talking about prison type liability, which typically doesn't occur in copyright violations, but civil (or financial) liabilities.

AKA, they probably want to ensure if, for example Disney, went after a seller for selling something with Mickey Mouse on it, that the seller is the one legally liable for it instead of MFF.

There can be confusion between a seller and an entity, and they probably want to legally make sure that they and the dealer are different entities and that difference is clear and distinct so that if the House of Mouse came down on the dealer that the fiscal liability would fall on the seller and come out of their pocket instead of the convention as a whole.

All they would have to do is point to that line and say, "Gawrsh, Mickey. Hey don't sue us, the dealer violated this rule we have, go after them instead."

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Let me come at this from the slightly different perspective of a community art gallery operator:

As a practical matter we get very few complaints from big business. Quite simply, it's not worth their time to complain about people producing products they'd never sell themselves - in part because bringing attention to its existence (plus the ensuing drama over its removal) might well be worse for their reputation than just ignoring it. Cases like Studio Canal and Paddington are the exception rather than the rule.

The other key exception is when a product competes with licensees. If someone paid a great deal of money in order to be able to make official statuettes or pillow-cases, for example, they'll likely ask Big Mouse or Auntie Barbera to stamp out the competition.

In our case we have a provision against selling fan-art on our site, and although that was primarily for when we sold prints or digital downloads, it's still in force. Since lawyers tend to only tend to reach out in such situations, it's very easy to keep them happy. Such cases are rare, though - it's happened only once that I can recall, regarding a statuette, and that was clearly in violation of that policy, so I was happy to take action (and the member in question didn't complain). I suspect in practice this would be true for MFF as well.

Your rating: None Average: 2.7 (3 votes)

This and your previous comment is probably the best thing I've seen here in ages so it's no coincidence that I agree with it. Oh who am I kidding, it's completely the other way around. I agree with it, so OF COURSE it's right.

Yes, the fandom's gatekeepers have always seen themselves as being a kind of law-enforcement and this is just another example of it. It's why I often find myself wondering if furry is a fandom as much as a cult. Rather than, as you said, just tell it like it straight up is, in as much detail as possible, and leave it to the judgment and personal responsibility of private citizens to take the risk or not, they want to take away your choice. And they probably even think they're "doing it for your own goooodddd!" no no, really, their own good, but you know how cognitive dissonance.

Of course there is another alternative. Just sell it on the DL. If people are so fucking ridiculous as to think fan art is this nefarious contraband, or are going to try to talk about it like it is just to scare people into complying, use the same tricks all the drug dealers and sellers of stolen shit use. Speak in codes. Keep the "bad stuff" away from open view, maybe literally under the table, to be discreetly slipped into a folder containing the "good stuff" which is disguised as something wholesome and American, like tentacle porn!

I mean Christ's sake, in Canada we pretty much sell cigarettes this way, and those are still perfectly legal! We sell tobacco in all kinds of places you might not expect, and no one thinks to ask, because it's not advertised. But if you see that tell-tale, big white cabinet with the lock on it, chances are that's where the smokes are sold.

The actual law has so much bigger fish to fry than this. It's unbelievable. Furries, never prepared, always scared, kinda like the opposite of what the rappers like to say. They gotta get it through their cheap Wal-Mart costume heads, they're not important enough to literally anyone who matters in the high up to be legally shut down over some fucking drawings but, like you said, any private company can sue any individual if, say, the con knows how to properly cover their own ass which HAHAHA what the hell am I on about, of course they don't.

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I would think a convention that's been running for 18 years would have it sorted out. If they don't, now's the time to solve that issue for good.

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (6 votes)

It's funny how so many furries who'd get upset if someone used their character without permission, think it's OK to use others' intellectual property without permission. A popular character has value because someone else has invested time and money into making it popular. If you didn't create it, you don't have the right to make money off it. It's only fair to respect others' rights if you expect others to respect yours.

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Go to many fan conventions and there will be dealers who's main stock are buttons, pins, stickers, keychains, etc of licensed characters. Often the images used aren't even ones they produced themselves. I remember going to conventions in the 90's and early 2000's where there was almost always a dealer or two selling pirated video tapes and later on DVD's with no attempt to hide what they were selling. Nobody would consider the latter ok these days, but the thing is, it's exactly the same as the first case.

A convention of 400 could probably allow that with no issues. MFF pulls in over 8000 and has a lot more attention focused on it. Part of what comes with that is having to have some 'cover your ass' policies to limit liability. They've had the same policy for years and have been fairly strict about it in the art show where they are actually acting as selling agents for the artists. They do not have the staff to inspect every item at every table in the dealer room and I'm not even sure how one would go about policing sketch drawing in the Artist Alley. Not only that, but if they actually did try policing the items and missed something, that could very well leave them open to more liability. Having the rule, enforcing it where there's something blatent, and more or less ignoring the rest is pretty much the status quo now and has been for years. People trying to get their items pre-approved are just being silly. It's not going to happen. If you feel your art/items could be in conflict with this policy, it's maybe time to re-evaluate what you're doing, but don't blame MFF.

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About the author

Equivamp (Kile Onasi)read storiescontact (login required)

a Zebra Pegasus from Kansas, interested in paleoanthropology, spider man and star wars

Kile "Equivamp" Onasi is the online pseudonym of a WikiFur Colleague, hobby artist, and fursuiter.