Topps Continues to Flirt with Lawsuits

Once the hottest product in Topps’ arsenal, Project 70, a set created to celebrate Topps’ 70 years in baseball, appears to be headed for disaster. Two weeks ago, we had Ohtani-Gate, which caused a 4-day stoppage of new Project 70 cards and was canceled after collectors had placed their orders, leaving many upset with Topps. Now we have an even worse case of infringement as supposed artist, King Saladeen, has very clearly stolen artwork created by Pop Fly Pop Shop’s Daniel Jacob Horine.

Instagram account ‘cmi_creators’, who was the first to post the Project 70 card a day before its release, quickly removed the image but the internet always remembers. Horine, clearly annoyed by Topps and King Saladeen, tweeted to his followers which quickly rallied collectors and had everyone talking. The problem is that Topps likely doesn’t have someone dedicated to researching every piece submitted to them by artists and with deadlines and an over 1,000 count checklist, these things are bound to happen.

At the same time, artists should have a little bit more self-respect when creating these cards. Running a photograph through image filters and Photoshopping backgrounds you found online does not constitute creating art. For example, Tyson Beck’s Jose Canseco #74 is clearly just an image with dozens of different filters applied to a well-known photo and the Golden Gate Bridge superimposed in the background. This is something any teen with a week’s worth of computer lessons can create and yet, 1,726 people purchased it.

Another “artist”, Ben Baller, literally takes a baseball card and applies a bunch of diamond filters. This is something I could do with a dozen different apps in the App Store. For some reason, collectors ate that shit up. So much so that Topps rewarded Baller with his own branded Chrome product. To return the favor, Baller, or Yang, as he doesn’t want you to call him, took a Topps Chrome card and burnt it live on his social media accounts, which have millions of followers.

Ultimately, 2021 Topps’ Project 70 will forever be known as the year they lost MLB to Fanatics. Maybe patting themselves on the back was not as important as say, fulfilling redemptions that go back half a decade or improving quality control and/or customer service but what do I know? If you’re still somehow heavily invested in Project 70, check out real artists involved in the project like Alex Pardee, Ermsy, Oldmanalan, etc. and avoid hacks like King Saladeen and Ben Baller.

A 30-Year Mystery Finally Solved

One of the main reasons I love baseball cards and have been an avid collector for 32 of my 41 years on this planet is the feelings of nostalgia certain sets, cards, and even players are able to conjure up in my mind. While my collecting rookie year is officially 1990, the set that really captured my imagination as a child is 1991 Score, specifically the All-Star caricatures subset. Over the years, I often wondered who the artist that created these cards was and even wrote about it to help get the word out.

In my article published five years ago, I received a tiny lead in a comment that ultimately helped solve this 30+ year mystery. The comment told me to look at old issues of Beckett price guides as he remembers there being an article about the artist published in the 90s. That was all I needed, as my next step was to reach out to Beckett’s hobby editor (and blogging legend), Ryan Cracknell. In less than a day, Ryan was able to track down the specific article as well as the artists’ name.

Chris Greco is the man responsible for some of the most memorable artwork on trading cards from the Junk Wax Era glory days of the 90s. These days, he doesn’t seem to delve too much into sports anymore. You can see his portfolio on his Instagram here. Aside from those big head caricatures, Greco was also responsible for 1993 Pinnacle’s Team Pinnacle inserts. It would be interesting to know if Topps made any effort to bring him on-board for their Project 70 set.

Speaking of Topps’ Project 70, the once insanely popular set seems to have fallen on hard times. The project, which was set to celebrate Topps’ 70 years in baseball, will ironically forever be known as a celebration of the year Topps lost their MLB license to Fanatics. Now word is spreading on several rejected designs due to possible infringement complaints, which may have come to light with Shohei Ohtani’s Ace of Diamonds card which appears to be more of a rip-off rather than a tribute.

Ermsy, one of the more popular artists producing cards for Project 70, posted on his Instagram that his World Series / Squid Game card was rejected by Topps. It’s a shame because Netflix’s Squid Game is one of the most popular shows of 2021 and these cards would have been an absolute monster had they made it to production. It’s understandable that Topps, fresh off losing their MLB & WWE licenses, is probably not eager to fight off Netflix and the creators of Squid Game in court.

It would be interesting to find out what other subjects have been rejected by Topps and a possible reason why. One thing is for certain, the buzz around Project 70 has all but died down. The print runs on new cards have decreased dramatically as collectors seem to have grown tired of the same teams/players being featured weekly and/or have been left with a bad taste in their mouth due to artist renditions from the likes of controversial contributors, Ben Baller and Keith Shore.

With over 300 cards remaining to be released for Project 70, the entire project is in real danger. There appears to be a lack of interest by some of the artists involved in continuing to produce cards, with many releases appearing rushed and/or lacking much creativity and passion. To make matters worse, MLB is a month away from a possible lockout, which could ultimately lead to a baseball strike. Last time that happened in 1994, it nearly killed baseball and the baseball card industry.

Are we headed for a repeat of 1994?

Can Upper Deck survive Topps’ lawsuit?

While I am not anything close to an “insider” when it comes to The Hobby, one has to wonder just how much the Upper Deck Company can handle during these already uncertain times.

Not only did they lose their most valuable asset (Yu-Gi-Oh), but in the last few months their new releases have not exactly been a huge success (Spectrum, A Piece of History, SPx).

When I first caught glimpse of the O-Pee-Chee inserts in 2009 Upper Deck I knew some collectors would not be pleased. What I did not know at the time is that Upper Deck owns the rights to O-Pee-Chee and is entitled to produce what they want. Isn’t that the whole point of owning a brand?

My personal opinion is that these cards look fantastic and while the tactic involved is a little underhanded, one would think it is perfectly legal. Still, using the O-Pee-Chee brand as an entire upcoming release might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for Topps.

Seriously though, is this any worse than Upper Deck Vintage?

*UPDATE*

Upper Deck Scores Legal Victory Against Topps

Sports Card Company Firmly Denies Topps’ Allegations of Any Wrong-Doing

The Upper Deck Company won a legal victory today when a New York judge denied a Temporary Restraining Order sought by Topps to prevent the release of 2009 Upper Deck Series Two and 2009 O-Pee-Chee baseball card products.

Yesterday, the Topps Company filed a lawsuit against Upper Deck claiming copyright infringement. Upper Deck strongly denies the allegations and did, in fact, do its due diligence when researching, clearing and securing approvals to use the card designs. Upper Deck received necessary legal approvals and proper protocol was followed to ensure there were no infringements.

“Based on the tactics utilized by Topps thus far, Upper Deck questions the validity of this claim,” said Bernd Becker, Upper Deck’s vice president of Trading Cards. “We strongly disagree with the allegations. In today’s challenging economic environment, it seems petty and counterproductive to file such a frivolous suit.”