Bootlegs: Fake Is Sad

Our festival has a strict anti-bootleg policy. We are a founding member of Fake Is Sad, an organization patrolling dealer rooms and checking the dealers on multiple conventions, including ours. But as neither the people from Fake Is Sad nor our own staff are all-knowing or all-seeing we may fail to spot a bootleg. In case you suspect that items are bootlegs we ask you to go to the Bring & Buy stand (placed on the left of the entrance when you enter) where there will always be people from our staff who have knowledge of bootlegs.

You will have to point us to the items in question but you will not have to talk to dealer, in fact we had rather you leave that to us.

The reason we want you to show us the items - and why it is of no use to complain afterwards instead - is that bootlegs can be very hard to spot and sometimes people are mistaken about what constitutes a bootleg. A doll that almost looks like a Totoro© doll but is off color, has the wrong shape and misses the ears is not a bootleg Totoro© doll, but just a bad doll and we would not know why you would want to buy it except that it is probably cheap. Having said that we once had a dealer selling such doll's with a label saying Totoro and then it is a bootleg, even when the label is in Japanese.

We also vividly remember some cases in the past where products where so well made that it took us weeks before we could say for sure that it was indeed a bootleg.

The rest of this page we'll share information concerning bootlegs, starting from what makes a bootleg illegal and ending with describing what we do to combat bootlegs.

What is legal merchandise

A creator of e.g. a comic or a character holds the rights to what he or she creates. This right is called copyright. It is transferable in whole or in part and may even have been traded away before the actual creation, e.g. when working for a company. But the basis of copyright remains that it is the right of the creator to determine what happens to what he or she creates. Nothing more, nothing less.

This right is neutral. While e.g. Disney, Sony and Warner Brothers are title to a large number of copyrights, the same copyright protected J.K. Rowling and enabled her to make demands in her negotiations with these companies when everybody wanted to start making Harry Potter movies.

How does it work? As an example take a cup with an image of Donald Duck©. For such a cup to be legal the manufacturer or the person or business ordering the production needs to have a agreement with The Walt Disney Company that holds the original legal title on the images, name and trade mark Donald Duck©. The contract can take many forms, but in the case of Disney products the agreement will usually grant the producer only the right to copy images provided by The Walt Disney Company onto cups and nothing but cups (e.g. no t-shirts) and usually with a limitation on the countries where the cups may be sold.

What about fan-comics? A fan-comic creator does use other people's characters to make a new story, usually without consent. When the original copyright holders object to the fan-comic, the fan has therefore no choice but to stop distributing that work. Conversely the original copyright holder does not hold title to the fan comic. It is created by the fan so he or she has copyright even though it uses characters owned by the copyright holder. The original copyright holder only holds the rights to those characters and to not the story itself and is therefore not allowed to start selling it. A third option was described by an author when we asked him what he would think if someone made of fan-comic of his work: "I would be thrilled, excited, thankful and as soon as they earn one euro I want my cut!" When both copyright holders come to an agreement about a work whose right they share, then it is actually legal to sell a fan-comic. This is far from unusual.

In the case of fan-comics there is also the right to persiflage that offers some protection to the fan and that is why we do allow the sales of fan-comics in the dealer room. But that right goes only so far. In the 1980's fan-comics of Bob and Bobbette© (Dutch: Suske en Wiske©) and Asterix© were sold in large numbers. The original copyright holders objected to both the political opinions and the sexual behavior associated with their characters in these works. As they where not interested in part of the proceeds they used their copyright to forbid further sales of these books. The judges agreed that the derived works were not persiflage but were only using the copyright holders popular characters for the political/financial ends of the creators of the fan comics. So these works are bootlegs and we would kick you out of the dealer room of you tried to sell them.

In the case of dolls, figures, posters and stickers using the copyright holders art, copies of DVD's or CD's, etc... not even the right of persiflage can be invoked, so permission from the copyright holder is always required. Without this permission the product is a bootleg, i.e. counterfeit product and it is not legal to create, sell or own it.

We think the basic system of copyright makes sense and enables an industry whose products we enjoy very much. Everybody is free to think differently but if you want to visit the festival we organize you will have to stick to our rules while on location. If you want to convince us we're wrong you can try, but as some of us own copyrights we are not talking about some abstract political idea.

How to recognize bootlegs

Alas! If only there were a simple method of knowing which products are bootlegs. In general you can see it by the copyright notices, but some bootleggers have caught on and put copyright notices on their merchandise. We even know a few cases where a copyright holder simply forgot to put the copyright notice on their product, but that is really rare so in general: without copyright notice a product is certainly bootleg.

As no single person knows all about bootlegs we use a team of experts each covering a different area. E.g. game-related merchandise is checked by people from the game room, others specialize in e.g figures, the works of certain anime studios, etc... If you are knowledgeable in any of these areas you are welcome to join the team.

In the end the only way to spot bootlegs is by pooling the knowledge of multiple people and when in doubt checking and double checking information online.

Why do we fight bootlegs?

The reason we fight bootlegs at our festival is not just that we happen to think the law is right in this case. Just imagine two dealer rooms: one filled with dealers selling bootlegs, one filled with clean dealers. Think deeper: one room filled with traders without regard for the law and the property and rights of other people, one room filled with traders who do respect the law and other people's property and rights. We can tell you from experience that you will have a better shopping experience with the honest dealers.

What about a mix of bootleggers and legal dealers? It doesn't work! As soon as some dealers start selling bootlegs the legal dealers start loosing money because their wares are more expensive because the copyright holder is paid. Within no time there'll remain only bootleggers in the dealer room.

We actually have a dark past were we did not check on bootlegs for a couple of years and saw this happening to our dealer room. It cost us another couple of years to climb back out of that hole. Then something unexpected happened! The complaints that there was nothing worthwhile in the dealer room died down! Sure, there were people complaining that things were expensive and of course some negative comments remain, but even the loudest complaining people started complementing the quality and diversity on offer in our dealer room. We actually get compliments for our dealer room!

We started the hunt for bootlegs because some, but not all, of our staff were personally affronted by the bootlegs sales. Little did we realize that by throwing out the bad dealers we had opened the door for good dealers! By getting good dealers we were pleasing our visitors. Now if you ask around most of our visitors will tell you they are neither concerned nor interested whether there are bootlegs on sale or not. But what visitors do care about is the quality of the dealers themselves; they just don’t realize the direct link between keeping bootlegs out and keeping quality dealers in.

You lie! You allow dealer Xyz and he sold bootlegs at Abc!

While we prefer dealers who won't sell bootlegs even if they already spent the money paying for it and dislike those dealers who sell bootlegs willingly, we also know dealers who sell bootlegs unwillingly because alas at many European festivals so many bootlegs are sold that joining the herd is the only way they can prevent a loss. While we may or may not sympathize with a dealer selling bootlegs at other festivals, we certainly do not allow them to sell bootlegs at our festival as then the quality of our dealer room goes down the drain. So as long as a dealer doesn't sell bootlegs at our festival we grudgingly accept that they may sell bootlegs elsewhere.

When we do notice dealers selling bootlegs at our festival we do kick them out during the festival. It happens every other year.

We do give advise to new dealers concerning bootlegs, often explaining the rules to them as they sign up. We also support other festivals in their fight against bootlegs, but we are just a volunteer organization and in the end we can only create a level playing field at our own festival. Changing the whole world is beyond our means.

Fake Is Sad

As it is beyond our means to change the world, we decided to join forces with other bootleg fighters and start the organization Fake Is Sad that checks for bootlegs at our and other conventions. Check their website<.a> for more details.

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