For everyone interested in the story, read on.
I think most of you are familiar by now with the fanservice art that I do at events. Card alterations, playmat sketches, that sort of thing. A lot of jovial jackassery. Well this started out as one of those.
At a Magic the Gathering Grand Prix in 2011, toward the end of the show, a player and I were chatting about the controversial topic of the day - Proposition 8. Marriage equality. After a bit of a rant, we joked about how what the equal rights movement needed was a sharable, sexy meme or something.
The Magic community being pretty forward thinking, we concluded that (many of) the Planeswalkers would be supportive of equal rights. I started sketching. A like-minded player went home very happy with a drawing of Lili and Chandra endorsing equality in a way that would be sure to get people's attention.
I posted the black and white, and it was very well received, to say the least. A lot of people were coloring it themselves, and it was getting reposted with the text about supporting equality. Seemed like coloring it myself was the next logical step.
Just hours after posting the color version, I was on the phone with the art director for Magic the Gathering, chatting about whatever we were working on at the time. He mentioned that he'd seen it, and that it was certain to be a big headache for Wizard's once the wrong sort of people ran with it, and created more off-color memes. Wizard's strives to be diverse and progressive, but this particular image could very easily go off-message.
So I took it down, figuring I'd save them the headache. But that just made social media go nuts with cries of censorship and homophobia. Striking it down made it more powerful than we could have possibly imagined...
I was immediately contacted by everyone in the universe for the scoop, and requests for prints, playmats, and/or the full-resolution image of this "forbidden art." While I may not have known better than to post it, I've always known better than to stomp on my client's copyrights. Nothing was made, no permission given, and no full-resolution was shared with anyone.
That just made a black market for it. At first, eBay sellers were claiming to have the hand-painted original (that doesn't actually exist,) and selling multiple "originals" for hundreds of dollars each. Well, that can't last too long of course. So then, it was "Steve is being sued because of his political beliefs! Help fund his legal defense!" When that was clearly not true, they just moved on to the next story, then the next.
For a while, I just let it all slide. I've always shared my work at relatively high resolutions for people who like what I do. I want people to enjoy and share my work.
I'd get super-excited fans bringing them to me at shows for a signature, at first very happy and proud of themselves for being a big enough supporter to have "donated $500 to my cancer fund" by buying one. And I had to disappoint them with the truth. For a while, I'd still sign the mats and prints, because I felt really bad for the fans who'd gotten scammed.
But that made things worse. Bootleggers were getting signatures too. Now there were signed copies up for sale. That makes them look legitimate. And that made me look like I was violating copyright, and giving the finger to one of my favorite clients just to make a quick buck.
So I stopped signing them, and I started contacting sellers. To their credit, most of them just needed to be politely asked to stop, and they did. (Some stopped as soon as I hit "watch this seller.") But there are always the ones... The "what are you going to do about it?" types. Or "hey, if you're not going to sell them, then I will, and you're stupid. I don't care if it's legal, I've got a fake name on this account anyway."
Yes, you can report them. And yes, they eventually have to take down the listing. Just the one though. They'll usually put another back up. Sometimes trying to be sneakier, like "I'm selling my most favoritest basic land. It's got a lot of sentimental value, so I'm asking $200. But I'll also give you my favorite playmat for free!" The best eBay/Etsy/etc will ever do is to take the listing down. Usually takes about a week. Which is about how long the auctions are in the first place...
So here we are. Five years later, and I'm still contacting two or three sellers a week about it. I could be making art for you all with that time instead. But my relationship with Wizard's of the Coast has been, and continues to be damaged by this counterfeiting, and so I have to take time to put out this constantly reigniting fire.
But you can help. Let people know the story. Don't let more of your friends and the community get scammed by counterfeiters. They know what they're doing is illegal, and they know their product is poor. But they also know they can fool plenty of people, and rake in a lot of money from good folk. But the Magic community has always been incredibly supportive. You may be opponents at the table, but as soon as the match is over, we're all working together to make MtG better for everyone. Whether it's cards or merchandise, counterfeiting is toxic. Buy real cards, buy real art, and be on the lookout for predatory sellers.
This has been a super-long-winded PSA by yours truly,
Thanks for reading.