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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Blatant Theft: The Popularity of Counterfeit Goods

In New York's Chinatown recently, my wife and I were amazed at all the shops selling brand name purses at ridiculously low prices. In one shop, I saw workers in the back of the store sewing D&G labels onto unlabeled counterfeit purses, illegally stealing the D&G trademark and illegally selling counterfeit goods - but our government seems to tolerate this kind of theft. Someone approached my wife and asked if she wanted to buy one of the purses. My wife politely explained that the purse looked very nice, but she didn't want to buy it because she thought it was fake. The brusque response of the saleswoman was surprising. She pointed at my wife and shouted, "Of course it's fake! If you want the real thing, go uptown and pay $300."

They aren't even ashamed of the blatant theft of a brand. Numerous businesses there are based on selling counterfeit goods. I know it's a huge problem in New York City, but the brazenness of the thieves surprised me.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

NO! Don't attack the countereiters! I love my ticking Rolexes and "Oakley" sunglasses (aka "Foakley," as in Fake Oakley, aka "Broakley" three days later). Besides, it's one of the few places left for Americans to practice negotiating skills. I once talked a guy into trading me a ticking Rolex for a bag of black beens strait up. With what other product can you do something that cool?

It is theft and wrong, but I have a hard time getting too worked up about it because everyone knows a fake Rolex a mile away. It would be much worse if they were trying to pass off their crap for the real thing, taking advantage of the credulous. The buyer knows its fake, the seller acknowledges its fake, and other people will know the buyer has a fake. I view the counterfeiters as being a little like Malt-O-Meal, but with a small pinch of immorality.

Mormanity said...

The appeal of the fakes is precisely their ability to look like the real thing to a casual observer. The fact that the buyer and the seller know it is fake hardly excuses the parties. Unless Rolex has authorized the use of their brand name and their proprietary designs for use by the manufacturer, the whole business represents theft of their trademarks and other intellectual property.

If everyone really could tell from a distance that the watch labeled "Rolex" was actually a Hong Kong special, the market for fakes would be much smaller. The purpose of the fakes is to create confusion and leach off the Rolex name - dishonestly. It's not a harmless game. However, I have heard from some IP attorneys that Rolex is much less concerned with the $50 knock-offs than it is with the $1000 fakes that require training to distinguish from the real thing. Sales of the $50 watches probably don't take away many actual buyers of the real brand or do severe damage to the brand, but the $1000 fakes are diverting serious customers and causing significant harm. For purses and other objects, there may also be a spectrum of harm done by the fakes, but whether the harm is great or minor, purchasing a counterfeit is still participating in a crime against someone else's property.

There are many legally distributed brands that imitate some aspects of more expensive products without violating trademark law. Sometimes they step over the line, and have to modify their products after being faced with legal action. But these products are not blatant fakes that steal the brand names of others. There is a difference between vigorous competition and outright theft, when both the seller and the buyer know that theft of someone else's brand name is involved. Please stay away from the latter and shun the counterfeiters. That goes for counterfeit DVDs, CDs, software, clothing, accessories, etc.

Mark N. said...

Imagine being in the city of Zion. The concept of something being a counterfeit imitation of something else seems laughable. Would anyone care if the watch (if watches are still necessary there) said it was a Rolex or not?

Here, in the telestrial world, the value of the watch comes, not so much from its functionality, but from the fact that it has a certain name printed on the face of the dial.

I can hardly wait until some fabulous fashion designer comes up with designer temple clothing, so I can let all my friends in the Celestial Room know how much better I am than they are, because my clothing has a certain name (and it's not mine!) printed on a label somewhere thereon.

Counterfeit goods: how absurd. As for those who purchase them, "they have their reward."

Bookslinger said...

"I know it's a huge problem in New York City, but the brazenness of the thieves surprised me."

Would you rather they compounded the sin of theft (of IP/tradmark/etc) with the sin of bearing false witness?

Anonymous said...

First off, if anyone pays $50 for a ticking Rolex they need more practice negotiating. I've never paid more than $10.

I don't have much problem with the "$50" knockoffs. They're extremely cheap looking all around. The "gold" is probably spray-painted on there and chips and rubs off almost immediately and the second hand "ticks" vs. the Rolex "roll." I can spot one immediately and I assume most other people can too. And if I ever wear one I'm always telling everyone about my fake Rolex purchase.

I do have a problem with the $1000 ripoffs of which you wrote. I've never seen one, but if it looks and gets passed off as real then that's way over the line and I fully agree with your objections.

Ujlapana said...

Jeff, you are right on the money. Rolex™ belongs to a company that invested significantly to create the brand value. The $10 fakes may be obvious, but why do people buy them? Because they say Rolex! If Rolex wanted to launch a line of $50 "mock" jewelry, they could. Or they could collect a licensing fee from those who do. But instead they're being robbed. Of course, they have bigger fish to fry, but that doesn't make it morally acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to say its ok morally, just that its pretty meh. Counterfeiters are stealing and I wont argue that-- just please forgive me for not losing sleep over it. Apparently Rolex isn't either.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "intellectual property" is state-invented nonsense. If these people are making their customers believe that their wares are genuine, it is fraud. If not, there is nothing truly criminal taking place (although I'm sure there are laws against it; there is a difference between "criminal" and "illegal"). To call this activity "theft" requires mind-boggling logical gymnastics.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised, though, that someone who makes his living securing intellectual "property" monopolies should vehemently defend the bureaucratic regime that makes them semi-feasible.