We’ve all been there before. You’re searching eBay for cards and/or autographs of a particular player, and instead of finding 10-20 of the newest Topps or Panini cards, your search results are flooded with “ACEO”, “ICONIC INK” & “Art Card” listings. You know the ones. The cards that, for the most part, look like they were designed in MS Paint, stole a few logos and printed in Grandmas basement. But as collectors continue to simply cast them aside as junk, ignoring the listings and continuing to scroll by, the problem continues to grow.
Now custom cards are nothing new. Ever since trading cards have been seen as valuable and people have had access to a printer, fakes, facsimiles, knockoffs and custom cards have permeated the market. And while people may have had some success selling these illegal cards, the rise of eBay as THE trading card marketplace opened the proverbial floodgates. Printers began to work overtime, and designers (I use that term loosely) looked for any secondary logo and template they could steal from one of the Big Two (Topps & Panini) to implement in their latest
And make no mistake about it, those floodgates have opened. Take the notorious “Iconic Ink” customs for example. This time last year, while they did exist, you could realistically navigate through eBay without having these MS Paint-wannabe pieces of paper adorn your search results. Now? Forget about it. Leave the company name out of a search of any player with name recognition (“Pete Alonso Auto Card” for instance), and the results are FILLED with listings that include “ICONIC” “FASC” and all the other trendy phrases used to artificially pump up a listing. Need more than one? They’ve got you covered, cranking the printers up to 11 and pushing incredibly large lots. Because everyone needs 500 illegal, fake, facsimile autographs. Look at the legitimate company conveniently positioned in the background below. Deceptive, shady advertising at best.
Why stop at just printing the card? After seeing how eBay will turn a blind eye to these (even when reported) and allow the sale of illegal cards, the
companies criminals are now encasing these pieces of paper with their own PSA knock-off slabs, further meant to deceive collectors. And it looks as if they have now convinced the small grading company GMA to start grading them too. So much for that whole legitimacy & credibility thing (R.I.P GMA ??-2019).
Now, there is a large, LEGAL custom card market out there, with some designers doing some drawings or templates that the “big boys” only wish they could do. This is not about those cards or designers. Make no mistake about it, the ACEO cards we are talking about here are meant to deceive people. They are violating countless laws. And while people will say “it says facsimile in the listing” or “any real collector knows these are fake”, etc., it doesn’t make it ok, or any less illegal (more on that shortly). These groups are targeting unsuspecting collectors/new collectors/significant others. The unknowing or uneducated. Last year I personally saw two different instances where a fellow collector received one of these cards, as a gift from a non-collector. It happens all the time. Thinking all collectors and buyers are as knowledgeable about the hobby as we are is a dangerous assumption to make, and a main reason for a lot of the posts in Sportscard Scammers Exposed (SCSX).
The biggest problem with these ACEO
cards pieces of paper? They are illegal! In so many ways. Team logos, player likenesses, secondary logos like the “Rated Rookie” logo, these are just some of the things you need approval to use before making cards of a player. There’s a reason that Panini and Leaf use airbrushed designs, or in some instances just a clip-art version of their jersey, when making their cards. They also have a licence with the Players Associations or individual Players of the cards they are making. These “cards” do not come close to meeting any standard for making “custom” or “art” cards of a person/player. Writing “Fasc” or “Custom” in the description doesn’t make it legal, nor does it begin to make it right. Yet to eBay, all they see is green.
Therein lies the biggest problem: eBay simply doesn’t care. Trading Cards are a huge part of eBay’s sales, so they turn a blind eye to it. But these
cards pieces of paper have flooded the trading card market so much that eBay has multiple categories for these pieces of paper specifically now! Absolutely ridiculous. (Credit to @WatchTheBreaks on Twitter for the picture)
Not all parties involved are taking the same approach as eBay. Panini has filed two lawsuits now, one back in July and one at the beginning of the month. These lawsuits were against the “designers” of the custom cards that used the Rated Rookie logo, among other Panini design elements. And it hasn’t had any effect whatsoever on the eBay market, as at the time of this writing there are hundreds of cards listed for sale with those same logos and designs. Even worse, that lawsuit doesn’t cover the majority of the cards permeating the market now, such as the “Iconic Ink,” and groups are simply altering their designs and continuing to list.
So the big question becomes, what can we do? Obviously, it’s going to be impossible to completely stop the manufacturing and distribution of illegal, custom cards. Someone, somewhere will always be trying to scam. But what we CAN do is severely limit the resources at their disposal for distribution (aka eBay), and increase the punishment for breaking these trademark and likeness laws. Hopefully the upcoming Panini lawsuits will end with some strong punishments being handed down.
Panini is far from the only company having their logos and designs stolen, and it would be nice to see some other companies or organizations start to fight back against these. There are countless fakes that take multiple design elements from Topps, Panini, Upper Deck, Leaf, etc., some using 2-3 different companies for the same “design”. But on every one of these fakes is the Player, the Professional Athlete whose image and (fake) signature is the driving force of this custom trend. When will the Players Associations (MLBPA NBAPA NFLPA etc) & even the leagues themselves intervene? Or team up with the card companies that they already work with? One of the purposes of the Players Association is to protect their members images. It’s literally one of their six main bullet points for what they do. From the NFLPA website:
But eBay is the key here. If they would put their foot down and ban these items from their marketplace, these cards would all but disappear from the collecting pool. At the very least it would severely slow down the amount that DO make it into the secondary market. But unless a large group of people start to demand change, they have no reason to ban/limit the listings, or remove the categories based off of illegal goods that seem to grow by the week. Instead they get their money, skirt responsibility, rinse and repeat.
So if we want things to change, we’ve got to speak up as a community ourselves. Much like the trimming scandal, the hobby community has the power to shine a bright light on these fakes and their creators. Report the listings. Report them all. Use social media to reach out to eBay, Players Associations & card companies. Change won’t happen overnight, but the hobby communities voice can steer it in the right direction.
***To report an item/listing on eBay click here***