Anime Central may be your only chance to meet that celebrity you love so much, so bring all the things you want autographed with you, but be warned! One of the quickest ways to insult a celebrity is by asking them to autograph unlicensed or bootleg merchandise!

In addition, buying unlicensed or bootleg merchandise hurts the Anime industry by not allowing the payout the creators work for. If a bootlegger makes or sells an unlicensed item, all or most of the profits go to the bootlegger and none to the creator! If the creator isn’t getting paid for their hard work, they can’t create any more of your favorite anime.

Bootlegs also saturate the market with (often low quality) merchandise. If you are lucky, you may be undercharged for a bootleg item, but many times, you’re overcharged for a bootleg item that has no quality control behind it, and may end up being worthless in the end.

But how can you tell whether or not something is the real deal or a total fake?

When bringing something to a guest to autograph and they politely decline to sign it because it’s bootleg, don’t be too dismayed! Most guests have pictures or official merchandise available (sometimes for free, sometimes to purchase) that you can get autographed. Merchandise bought directly from the guest is a sure way to get legitimate merchandise (plus you’re buttering up the guest by putting money back in their wallet!)

When it comes to individual vendors, shopping online, or at a kawaii/collectible store, be weary of vendors who insist you do not touch or examine the merchandise. They may want you to buy the merchandise without realizing that it’s bootleg. You should always get a chance to determine the authenticity of a new item you buy.

Do your research! Ways to identify merchandise are always changing. Manufacturers change their particular labeling and marking techniques to make it harder for bootleggers to make “genuine-looking” merchandise. In addition, being intimately familiar with a series makes you a quasi-expert in that series, making it easier to spot discrepancies in bootlegged merchandise. Bootleggers will often get details about a particular series wrong because they care more about moving product than they worry about the quality of the product. There are also companies out there known for not respecting copyrights and making bootleg merchandise.

Bootleg DVDs often have incorrect details on the box. The descriptions of the story may be wrong, information on the actors is incorrect, copyright info may even be missing. Any series is usually printed with 4 episodes per disc to make sure the video quality is high. If a series is packed with more than 4 episodes per disc, not only is it most likely a bootleg, the video quality is most likely low as to cram as many episodes per disc.

New plush toys have tush tags and swing tags. Tush tags are a fabric label sewn into the seam of a plush that contain info about the company that made them. Every new plush from Japan should have a tush tag. Swing tags provide consumers with safety info, so not attaching them is a liability to a company. All new plush, imported and domestic, will come with a swing tag. Bootleg plush will often have missing or incorrect info on tush and swing tags. Depending on when a plush was made, the tags will contain particular info, so always do your research!

Many collectibles and plastic toys have limited runs, and usually come with a paper insert showing the entire set that item is from. Bootlegs are often of an inferior quality because they are often molded from a copy of an item instead of being molded from an original metal mold.

Some franchises don’t even license out their properties for certain items. Disney and Square Enix have not licensed any swords or keyblades from any of their video games, so any of those items you see for sale are bootleg. Bill Waterson of Calvin and Hobbes was known for not licensing out his property except in very rare and small numbers. Just about all Calvin and Hobbes merchandise is bootleg.

We pride ourselves on making sure all merchandise sold in our Exhibit Hall is official and fully licensed. We don’t allow any of our vendors to sell any bootleg or unlicensed merchandise. If you think you spot a vendor selling bootleg merchandise, get in touch with one of our Exhibit Hall staff and we’ll look into it, or contact them at exhibithall@acen.org.  Let us know where you saw the vendor, and what item(s) might be bootleg. All tips will be anonymous, so you have nothing to fear in coming forward.

Otaku News has an excellent in-depth article on spotting bootlegs at http://www.otakunews.com/piratefaq.php, last updated November of 2012. They even have a handy 2 page guide for spotting bootlegs that you can print out and bring with you. Get it at http://www.otakunews.com/downloads/Pirate_Anime_Guide.pdf.

What experiences have you had with bootleg merchandise? Feel free to leave a comment!