Controversy strikes Third World Fringe Congress: Excluded Artists Protest with Letter to Fringe CEO


The 3rd World Fringe Congress, a gathering of Fringe festival administrators from around the globe, is running from November 16 – 18 in Montreal after being held twice in Edinburgh, Scotland (in 2012 and 2014).

Normally a low-key affair whereby Fringe managers discuss different issues surrounding the festivals, controversy has struck the Congress after various artists in both Montreal and Buffalo were rejected when they applied.


The excluded artists represent infringement festivals, Fringe-like Festivals that cannot operate under the name “Fringe” due to legal threats. Infringement festival representatives were invited to the Edinburgh World Fringe Congress in 2012 and 2014, but in 2016 their applications were all rejected by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF), hosts of the 3rd World Fringe Congress.


The CAFF has the words “Fringe” and “Fringe Festival” locked in a trademark and threatens legal action against anyone attempting to do Fringe theatre without their permission.

An open letter of complaint has been issued to CEO Shona McCarthy of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, asking her to overturn this unfortunate decision. Infringement artists feel that trademarks should have no place in the world of Fringe arts, as they result in the exclusion of artists and compromise what was once an artist-driven festival, all in the name of corporate interests.

Ironically, it would appear that the history of the Fringe is repeating itself. The artists who were excluded from the CAFF-hosted World Fringe Congress are now setting up shop on the fringe of the event. The exact same thing happened in Edinburgh in 1947 when artists’ invented the Fringe Festival. After being rejected by administrators of the Edinburgh International Festival, they decided to play on the fringe of the official festival. This act of cultural resistance spawned a global movement whereby Fringe festivals have appeared in hundreds of cities around the world.

However, there are now complaints that corporate interests are beginning to compromise Fringe festivals by trademarking them. Despite the fact that artists created this festival as a protest against exclusion, they are now forbidden to play without paying hefty fees in jurisdictions like Canada.

To highlight these issues, Montreal artists will be hosting the 13th annual infringement festival from November 15 – 20, offering unadulterated, independent infringement arts that are not tainted in any way by corporate interference.


Promising no restrictive trademarks, cross-branding, visual pollution, lotteries, unfair deals for artists and audiences, censorship, etc. typically found at other Canadian festivals, the infringement festival, is based on the original Edinburgh Fringe of 1947. Its purpose is to put the power back into the hands of the artists and spectators and to curb damaging corporate practices at Fringe festivals.

There will also be the first-ever World Infringement Congress, whereby festival administrators are being invited to conduct and/or attend progressive lectures and workshops in a more formal setting. Scheduled on Saturday, November 19, the day after the World Fringe Congress ends, this is an opportunity for Fringe managers at the Congress to explore some of the corporate problems that are compromising festivals in Canada and across the globe.

There will also be a free performance of WTF?! (What the Fr*nge?!) on Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m. at the Rusty Shuttle Gallery (3655 Saint Laurent, Loft 411) for those who cannot attend the World Infringement Congress. This performance-lecture analyzes various problems, often corporate, that are compromising Fringe Festivals across the planet and invites Fringe Managers to reflect on their own approaches to running a Fringe Festival. The performance will be held at the Rusty Shuttle Gallery (3655 Saint Laurent Boulevard) and all Fringe managers are welcome, including the members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) who banned all infringement artists from attending the 3rd World Fringe Congress.

Excluded artists hope that through dialogue some of the more contentious issues compromising Fringe Festivals in Canada and across the globe can be addressed with the view of resolving them in the future.





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