The company that produces Fantasy Fest yanked this year's winning poster design due to concerns it looks too similar to existing artwork.
"We value the original art our community puts forth every year and in no way condone plagiarism," said Linda O'Brien of The Market Share Co., which is contracted to direct Fantasy Fest.
Organizers decided Friday that David Klein's winning poster showing his take on the 2013 theme of "Super Heroes, Villains and Beyond!" was unfit after they received an email of artwork found on the Internet showing similarities to the trademarked comic book character Superman, O'Brien said.
O'Brien declined to say who sent the email, but stressed that no one contacted Market Share threatening legal action over Klein's poster.
"We're not sure where the original image came from, but I believe it was found somewhere on the net," O'Brien said.
Klein declined to comment Monday, but said he may talk about the issue at a later date.
O'Brien, Market Share members and attorneys decided Friday to stop production of the posters and T-shirts prior to any being sold.
"The moment it was brought to our attention and we viewed the 'too similar' artwork, we started pulling everything," O'Brien said. "Fantasy Fest has a reputation of protecting our assets and would never knowingly use anyone else's (work).
"To prove our point, our immediate decision to pull everything is very costly. There has been no distribution of the art. The shirts and posters have been pulled prior to a single one being sold."
O'Brien said that decision has cost the organization "in excess of $50,000."
Market Share informed Klein of its decision Monday morning, O'Brien said.
"All selected artists are required to sign a release stating that their artwork is original and that they have exclusive rights to the said art," O'Brien said.
Fantasy Fest started the poster contest years ago to help promote local artists. The winning designer is given $1,000, though they do not get any of the royalties from poster and T-shirt sales.
Whether Klein would be asked to return the $1,000 had not been decided as of Monday, O'Brien said.
"That hasn't been discussed in the office yet, but I can tell you we're very disappointed that it (Klein's art) looks too similar," O'Brien said. "We're extremely disappointed."
Organizers will now release a backup design that will be the official 2013 Fantasy Fest art.
"We don't have it ready to go, but we anticipate it will be ready in about a week," O'Brien said of the new artwork's release.
The loss of money will not impact Fantasy Fest events or scheduling this year or next year, O'Brien said.
"We don't anticipate downgrading the festival in any way or form," she said.
Being chosen as the official artist for Fantasy Fest is considered an honor by the artists who offer submissions, said Key West artist Rick Worth. His work has been selected twice in years past.
"It's a really big thing for artists and children -- all kinds of people submit pieces," Worth said. "They're all very proud of their pieces. Having been through it for 30 years, I don't put in something every year, but when I do it's always tough. It's an honor and a lot of fun."
Fantasy Fest kicks off Oct. 18 and runs through Oct. 27.
For information visit fantasyfest.com