I want to emphasize there is no right or wrong answer. There is no answer at all, in fact. I've been thinking about this question for a while, and I can't come up with an answer. So I figured I would open the floor so others can bounce the idea around with me.
(I also want to emphasize, since there are a few readers who read way too much into my posts, that this has not happened to me yet. But it has happened to others I know, so it's just a question of when before I have to deal with this.)
So. There's a TV show you like. Let's call it, "The Adventures Of Buzz Merkin." (Ha ha, yourself.) You think this show is a bunch of fun, and you decide to make a fan comic. It's not a hentai doujinshi, it is a comic that, had it been made into a show episode, would fit perfectly within the show's continuity. It is a genuine work of fan love. It's a classic small press thing, you run off copies of the pages on a photocopier, use a long-handle stapler to put it together, and you have your very own Buzz Merkin comic book. You make, oh, ten copies, a few for you and a few to give to your friends who are also Buzz Merkin fans.
Everybody still with me so far? That's good!
Now. Flash forward a year or two. Buzz Merkin is a certified hit. Lots of people love it. So much so, that the local entertainment memorabilia expo is bringing the creator and producer of Buzz Merkin to the show to sign autographs. The producer is charging $20 a sig.
This is the moment you've been hoping for, a chance to meet this guy who so inspires you. So you head to the convention, ready to get the most awesome autograph you could ever hope for -- his signature on your Buzz Merkin fan comic.
So here's the question -- does this guy have the right to refuse to sign your fan comic as it is not officially licensed?
Now, my question presupposes a LOT of factors. First of all, there is nothing morally objectionable in the comic to make him balk. You aren't showing the characters having an orgy or anything like that. You aren't going to flip this thing on eBay. And you are a genuine fan of the show. Plus, everyone has the right to refuse to sign something for any reason, from they think you might be a flipper to their butt itches. I'm just wondering if there is a general "we'll allow it" ruling.
(Side note: I am still trying to find out the source of The Legend. According to The Legend, a very popular, well-known, and successful comic artist was in an Artist Alley and someone asked him if he would sign some comics. He said sure, and the guy slapped a stack of thirty #1's of his first indie comic on the table. Supposedly, the artist signed each one, "To the lucky eBay winner, don't forget to leave positive feedback!" The guy did a total burn when he saw his precious investment. I've talked to lots of people who have heard of it, but no one can give me a name, so I still don't know if this is just an urban legend or actual history.)
A lot of people won't have a problem, and will, in fact, be good sports about it. For example, Angus Scrimm, the legendary Tall Man from Phantasm, signed copies of the Phantasm fan game for the Atari 2600, with the pictures appearing in Video Game Trader. Bruce Campbell, for a while at any rate, would sign bootleg copies of the alternate ending of Army Of Darkness (this was before it was officially released and generally available, so I don't know if that's changed). The only things I know The Bruce will flat out refuse to sign are the Army Of Darkness comics by Dynamite. Nick Barrucci licensed "Army Of Darkness" from Universal, so The Bruce, Sam Raimi, and anyone else doesn't get a cent from the deal (the situation is very complicated, and I can't reveal what is really going on for fear that it will compromise the people who filled me in, but suffice it to say, The Bruce has some very legitimate beef with Barrucci). I have even seen The Bruce sign original art pages from the Dynamite series, just because the fan paid a bunch and he didn't feel it was fair to shut him out.
But then, there's the flip side. The Bruce usually charges $50 or more for a signature. If his beef is that he's not getting any money from the Dynamite deal, he's still making more money per item than he ever would with a deal (and possibly, once his total haul from the appearance is tallied, more in one weekend than he would have gotten from a deal with Dynamite). Sure, he can refuse, but should he really?
Another example is anime cons. Anime cons like to say no bootleg or pirate merch allowed for sale (no SM discs, for example), and that guests will not sign such things -- present them with a SM soundtrack for Final Fantasy and they'll throw you out on your ass. And yet, the Artist Alley is almost nothing but illicit merch. Fan prints, fan plushies, replica weapons -- all this stuff is technically copyright violation and trademark infringement. And yet, not only are they not forbidden to do this, lots of cons even let the artists Walmart their shit. I have a wonderful fan print poster of Cardcaptor Sakura. If the ladies from CLAMP ever came back to Chicago, if I asked them to sign it, would I be in violation of the COC for the con? Especially if they are charging for the sigs? What if, as has happened, I have a music disc that I don't realize is bootleg. I don't know I'm breaking the rules. Once again, though, if they are charging, then they are in a way getting paid for the work, so is it really fair for them to refuse?
I have been lucky so far. No one has refused to sign either my fan items or my quasi-legal stuff. My list includes:
* Two movie scripts signed by Kevin Smith, with him writing "This is illegal" and "You're going to jail for this" above his sig (I have been assured he was joking, he got it, but it still does make you balk a little bit when you see that)
* My fourth draft of the Men In Black movie script signed by creator Lowell Cunningham (prompting him to talk with me about all the different drafts and changes it went through, great guy)
* My third draft script for "The Little Mermaid" signed by Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel (this was a long time ago, so apparently I have had a thing for mermaids a lot longer than I've realized)
* An off-air VHS tape of Cartoon Planet signed by George Lowe (who told me it was a sign he'd really made it because someone cared enough "to bootleg me!")
* A "poster" of Bruce Campbell that is just an oversized photo print, and he was totally cool with
* My "Pearls Before Swine" fan games, signed by Stephan Pastis
* My two Doctor Whooves fan comics signed by Tara Strong
However, these are relatively isolated things and don't really impact anyone's bottom line or ego all that much. Would William Shatner be as cool? How about Stan Lee? Adam West? Is there a general line, and if so, what is it?
Like I said, I have no answer one way or the other. But with convention season getting ready to kick off, it's possible this will happen to me sooner or later. And I'm just wondering.
What do you, the viewers at home, think?