Entrepreneurialism and IP at Steel City Con
Steel City Con (a Burgh-based pop culture convention in the vein of San Diego's famed Comic Con) has been running all weekend at the Monroeville Convention Center (13 miles from downtown Pittsburgh) and is finishing up today. I attended Saturday, August 12th (--the biggest "autograph" lines I saw were for Burt Reynolds! And it was cool to get up-close looks at three of the Brady Bunch kids, "Greg", "Bobby", and "Cindy"..."the youngest one in curls".--) and chatted with a number of very creative Western Pennsylvania entrepreneurs, showcasing and selling their self-made wares. In a variety of ways, they're using and working with (some would say infringing upon) Intellectual Property, and, in some cases, transforming Intellectual Property into new works.
Decals are a big seller at Conventions, like this X-Men decal:
Some examples of works that I observed being sold at the Con veer closer to (and step over?) the edge of infringement than others that can make stronger arguments for "transformativeness". Cristine Cordero's Heroes and Heels is a good example of the latter. Cristine told me that she uses actual comic book-clipped images to bring one-of-a-kind "custom created comic book shoes" to life...and her customers' feet.
Some have even been worn at superhero-themed weddings. ("I now pronounce you husband and..Deadpool?")
I asked each vendor with whom I spoke if they had had any requests to "cease and desist", or worse, from the companies that own the IP rights to, say, Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Suicide Squad, and the Avengers. Everyone shook their heads or said that they hadn't experienced anything like that. A few told me that any IP rights enforcement-type issues that they'd seen at conventions were relegated to films and videos, more associated with digital piracy. One seller told me he hadn't ever seen anyone roaming around the Cons enforcing IP rights. (As an IP instructor, I contrasted that with copyright enforcement examples I'm well aware of, involving licensing "sheriffs" on the lookout for copyright scofflaw musicians and cover bands. See here and here.)
I saw some really ingenious mashups of popular TV shows and characters. This T-Shirt combines the high mortality rate trope of the Red-Shirted security officers in the orginal Star Trek series (--if Star Trek were a chess game, the Red Shirts would be your pawns), with the series name of a popular zombie apocalypse TV show you may have heard of:
"Where do you come up with these ideas", I asked their maker?
"In the middle of the night they come to me. About 4 am", she chuckled.
Another seller with GoodsandEvil.com told me that Pittsburgh-born Greg Nicotero, the special effects guru extraordinaire on The Walking Dead, had just bought up a bunch of his clever zombie-themed shirts to take back to the crew. "Pretty cool to think that these shirts may be worn by people on the set", he understandably beamed. I told him I really liked the t-shirt below, a creative homage to the Western Pennsylvania-referenced places in 1968's (copyright-free!) Night of the Living Dead film and its cinematic zombie progeny, made by Pittsburgh's own George Romero, recently deceased. I snapped up one for myself, and one for my nephew, who's a big fan of The Walking Dead--before Greg Nicotero could circle back and clean them out (for We Are Negan? Rick's Gang? Shiva???).
Bringing it back to myself...I've always loved the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Ian McKellen-cum-Gandalf the Wizard stares down a fiery Balrog. With just his staff and a full-throated "You Shall "Not Pass". Now I can own Gandalf's "red line" on a yellow metal sign...and daydream about where I'd like to place it.
And for any of you Games of Thrones fans out there (or, if you're not a GOT devotee but are looking for a truly unique stocking stuffer for later this year)...how about custom-made Chain Mail for your canine BFF? Not that even Valyrian chain mail would do much good, should you be unlucky enough to find a Drogon-driving, "Dracarys"-dripping Daenerys Targaryen bearing down on you on some windswept plain.