Counterfeit brand products – A harmless tourist attraction?

In Insights, Uncategorized

31 October, 2013

What a bargain! A Gucci bag for 100 USD! A Burberry scarf for 75! Nike trainers, 25 US Dollar!

What’s the harm? Even if they hold together for just a year, they’re still a bargain. Right? I don’t care if they’re not original. They look alright, and someone made the effort of producing and selling them. Maybe I’m actually doing some good for someone less fortunate?

The excuses I’ve heard are endless. And if I had a dollar for each time I’ve been told not to care, I probably could afford an original Gucci bag. The commerce with counterfeit label products has always bothered me, and since I started working professionally with intellectual property rights, I feel obliged to take a firm stand against all types of counterfeit commerce. But as I learn more about the forces behind it, my stand point is no longer just principle. I have come to understand that there is a far more dark side to it than people in general know, or want to see.  There is a difference between a cheap price and a bargain. And the cheap prices offered by counterfeiters often come at a very high cost to others.

Counterfeit is one of the largest growing industries with a turnover of millions of dollars, and it is growing. As long as consumers buy counterfeit products there is no incentive to stop counterfeiting. But are consumers aware of what they are actually buying?

The working conditions in the factories are often horrific, and there is no such thing as work environment control or regulated working. The workers, often very poor, young people, even children, are subjected to toxic chemicals without any kind of protection. Shady criminal organisations are making lots of money on people’s will to buy cheap fake merchandise. If you are concerned that your local fashion store buys clothes from manufactuers using child labor, or manufacturers not taking responsibility for the colour dye used in the process of making your red top not being lethal, I suggest you think twice before even considering bying a counterfeit brand product. In most cases you can rest assured that they are manufactured under conditions that you would never accept from a cheaper brand. So why is it okay when the brand label says high end but the price tag says high street?

The International Anti Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC) list six reasons why you should never buy fake:

  • Counterfeiting is illegal and purchasing counterfeit products supports illegal activity.
  • Counterfeiters do not pay taxes meaning less money for your city’s schools, hospitals, parks and other social programs.
  • Counterfeiters do not pay their employees fair wages or benefits, have poor working conditions, and often use forced child labor.
  • Counterfeit goods are often made using cheap, substandard, and dangerous components that put the health and safety of consumers at risk.
  • The profits from counterfeiting have been linked to funding organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorist activity.
  • When you purchase a fake, you become part of the cycle of counterfeiting and your money directly support these things you would never want to support.

This is not a harmless tourist attraction. Depending upon the nature of the product being counterfeited, there can be serious health and safety concerns for consumers, such as in the examples of counterfeit baby formula, toys for children, medications, car parts, batteries, alcohol (containing methanol), or electronic goods. In nearly every instance, counterfeited goods are not made with the same quality materials or to the same high standards as the original.

Even when there’s no danger for the consumer, you should still consider the time, money and effort spent by companies to come up with, market and protect their brand. Years of hard work is put in by product developers, marketers, attorneys, sales managers etc. to put their product on the market. Authorized resellers cannot compete with the growing illegal market.

Furthermore, you should be aware that in some countries you can be prosecuted for buying counterfeit goods, and you do not want to get caught in customs in, for instance, Italy or France carrying a fake bag. Tourists have been fined up to 10,000 Euro by Italian police for buying a fake handbag.

I could go on and on about this topic, but if no other argument bite, counterfeit is theft. Plain and simple. Would you ever promote theft in any other area?

Elisabeth Åhrberg, LL.M. at Awapatent

© Comité Colbert. Poster from a French anti-counterfeit campaign, launched by luxury group Comité Colbert, French Customs and the French National Anti-Counterfeiting Committee, collaborating with some of the major French luxury brands.

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