Over the past several years, as various competitive moves in the growing business of comic conventions and pop culture shows have caused the phrase "con war" to become part of the standard industry lexicon, one of the most contentious and often litigious markets for conventions has been the city of Toronto. This week, that history earned a new chapter as Hobby Star Marketing – the company that puts on the annual "Fan Expo Toronto" show – has sued Wizard World, Inc. over its use of the name "Toronto Comic Con" for their show which just wrapped its latest outing last weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
In court filings obtained by CBR News, Hobby Star claims Wizard World and its newly installed CEO John Macaluso are improperly using the name, as Hobby Star claims rights to the term "Toronto Comicon." That slight change in spelling may become very important in the future, though for now they've accused Wizard of "passing off their services or business as or for those of the plaintiff" and "directing public attention to their services or business in such a way as to cause or be likely to cause confusion in Canada between their services or business and those of the plaintiff" among other claims. Additionally, the suit claims that representatives of Wizard defamed Hobby Star by claiming to vendors that the company has threatened exhibitors with reprisals for trying to buy space at both shows.
As a result, Hobby Star is asking for damages of $500,000 and repayment of all applicable legal fees.
Hobby Star's claim centers around its own show, "Toronto Comicon," which has in the recent past run both in April and at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with the latest running at the location March 10-11 of this year. Interestingly, Hobby Star hasn’t registered “Toronto Comicon” with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, so it’s relying on common law to defend the mark. Its defense within the suit hinges on Wizard “Passing Off” their show through deceptive marketing practices outlined in Canadian intellectual property law. Within the suit, Hobby Star refers to their ownership of the name by “using the trade-mark and trade name" on Toronto Comicon. To win the suit, the company will have to demonstrate there’s a goodwill and prestige associated with “Toronto Comicon,” not simply that they were first to use the name.
This is the most recent turn in the legal right over the name "Comic Con" or its various spellings. For decades, conventions across the country used the term interchangeably to promote any and all local comic conventions, but in an era where the general public most readily identifies the term with Comic-Con International in San Diego (who own a copyright on the hyphenated version of the name), it's been a guessing game within the industry whether or not more strict competition would crop up over its use. For the past few years, many speculated Comic-Con International might take Wizard to court after the company rebranded all its shows as "Comic Cons" rather than their previous nomenclature as "Wizard Worlds." While that never came to pass, this new case may not be the last such legal battle over the branding.
More specifically to this case, Hobby Star is known as a shrewd player when it comes to defending its brand. From 2004 to 2007, the Toronto Fan Expo made waves in the local comics press thanks to a hard-lined booking feud with the smaller local show known as the Paradise Comicon. Things went silent when Wizard World bought Paradise in 2012 and rebranded it the Toronto Comicon while Hobby Star took to defending its biggest show from perceived infringement. However, the quiet period appears to have ended.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on this story as it becomes available.
CBR Staffer Kevin Melrose contributed to this report.