Lemonade made from fake ‘lemons’ is still sour, but certainly better than the lemons alone.

April 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

An act of charity will often polish the questionable pedigree of a gift given.

In other words, even a parasitic knockoff can be put to good use.

Fakes that have been confiscated are occasionally given to the less fortunate. While this kind of repurposing is not new, it is always inspiring to witness.

Frankly, it can come as a bit of a shock to find ‘counterfeiting’ and ‘charity’ in the same sentence, but this type of generosity is able to put the otherwise bloodsucking items to good use. Copycat t-shirts can be forgiven when they are used to ease suffering.

In that sense, the latest example of this kind of generosity is a most welcome surprise.

The Brooklyn D.A. has announced that millions of dollars worth of confiscated counterfeit goods will be shipped to aid earthquake victims in Haiti.

The effort, named Operation Help Haiti, will deliver 125,000 tons of seized goods with an estimated street value of over $10 million to those affected by the quake.

A key component of the operation was the permission obtained from patent holders that included Nike and Timberland. The D.A. contacted each brand to ask if they would have any issue if these patent violations were used to provide humanitarian assistance. The companies, which included Antik, Diesel Industries, and Black Label among others, graciously gave permission.

To avoid any confusion, the fake brand identifiers will be removed from the items before the goods are delivered.

The project is a collaborative effort and wouldn’t be possible without the help of organizations like World Vision, who will be delivering the fake goods, and Phoenix Beverage, Inc., who will be warehousing the items while they are organized and packaged.

This is a fine example of the collaboration needed to successfully fight the fake trade.

The knockoffs donated to the less fortunate not only help those who receive them, but rattle the very counterfeiting paradigm – while the production of these goods enslaves many people, the goods themselves, when confiscated and redistributed, can help to free many people from enslaving circumstance.

And while charity alone may not flip the marketplace for fakes on its ear and give it the few stiff kicks to the tailbone it deserves, this type of generous act is critical to ending the exploitation and abuse.

At the heart of Operation Help Haiti and similar efforts to donate confiscated goods is compassion. Where counterfeiters’ main concern is their profit, a compassionate individual turns outward to embrace those in need, rather than their own needs.

Compassion is the very opposite of counterfeiting.

However, in the spirit of full disclosure, it has to be said that counterfeiters shouldn’t expect to receive any of this compassion when they’re finally brought to justice.

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For those wearing fakes, a new study asks just exactly who’s fooling who.

April 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Compared to the long list of reasons people use to justify counterfeit purchases, the waiting list for the iPad is tiny.

Certain buyers who aspire to the lifestyle that the brands symbolize will turn their coin purses inside out for fakes.

Others choose to buy the bogus baubles to get a little jolt from doing something illegal, which is as impressive as a low-rent adrenaline junkie wearing water wings in a wave pool.

There couldn’t be a worse way to emulate an authentic lifestyle than to buy a counterfeit version of it.

Faux frocks and sham goods offer a connection to authentic luxury that’s as sturdy as a balsa wood bridge strung across a gorge in an action flick. It’s all splinters and splashdowns.

The number of ways people are able to justify this kind of behavior is frustrating in its endlessness and endlessly frustrating. But if we boil it down to a single characteristic, the reason people are willing to go to great lengths to buy a fake, to wait in dank rooms that double as rodent latrines and stroll around back alleys, is because they are lazy.

It’s easier to fill that void of self-esteem with a fake than to earn an authentic piece of craftsmanship.

But the easy route is also a dangerous one. While we know counterfeitsing hurts many people who manufacture and sell the goods, a recent study has shown that buying fakes can damage the buyer as well.

And it’s not just a question of Karma.

Back in December, the NY Times Magazine recapped the best concepts from the previous year in its annual “Year in Ideas” section and mentioned two of our friend Dan Ariely’s papers.

One of his works, The Counterfeit Self, written with fellow psychologists Francesca Gino and Michael Norton (from the Universities of North Carolina and Harvard, respectively) tackled how wearing counterfeit items can alter behavior.

The research explained how wearing a fake can actually make a person act less ethically.

Put briefly, after subjects donned designer sunglasses that were selected from boxes labeled ‘counterfeit’ and ‘authentic,’ they were asked to perform tasks in situations where cheating would be easy.

It turns out that high percentages – greater than 70 percent – of the participants who knowingly wore the fake glasses cheated.

Speaking to the New York Times Magazine, Dr. Gino summed up the phenomenon quite well: “When one feels like a fake, he or she is likely to behave like a fake.”

If someone is aware of the abuse that counterfeiting causes and buy fakes anyway, it’s fair to say that their ethical tank that is already dangerously close to E. As this new study suggests, if they’re also wearing the impostor gear on a regular basis, it’s definitely time to pull over and fill up, or else they’ll end up stranded in desert with nothing but a fake parasol for cover.

Then again, a little time baking in the sun might do them some good.

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Two recent developments in the fight against fakes encourage a little self-reflection

April 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

A campaign observed from a distance is known only by its most dramatic events.

And while ups and downs certainly help shape the path of many a movement, for those on the ground the experience is much more balanced. Campaigns require patience. They are won with gradual groundswells, not a collection of crises.

That said, over the past few weeks the fight against fakes had a few of its own peaks and valleys.

The recent ruling by the U.S. Second Court of Appeals that cleared eBay of charges filed against it for copyright violation could seem like a setback for hardened anti-counterfeiters.

In response to a 2004 suit filed by Tiffany’s claiming that thousands of fake pieces of jewelry bearing its logo were peddled on the site and made eBay liable for trademark infringement, the court upheld an earlier ruling and cleared the online retailer of the charges.

The presiding judge found that eBay’s policy of booting auctions for impostor goods – after a request is made, mind you – is a sufficient effort to fight fakes.

Further, as the lawsuit claimed that the advertisements and the hyperlinks that drive traffic to eBay could represent false advertising if the goods are fake, the ruling stated that a retailer doesn’t need to stop advertising altogether just because some of the products sold on its site may be frauds.

The court noted that it would very much violate the law if an ad claimed that all the products were authentic.

And so, the court suggested that future disclaimers would have to warn consumers that some of the products sold on a site might be frauds.

Though it might seem otherwise, we see our authentic pieces of glassware as half-full. At its core, the verdict actually encourages anticounterfeiting efforts.

Remember the ruling would have been far different if eBay hadn’t had policies in place to prevent the sale of bogus goods.

The lawsuit grabbed the retailing community by its lapels and gave it a good shake. It has helped to shape future sales practice by mandating, in so many words, the presence of a disclaimer.

Better still would be for eBay to develop a series of professional tutorials on how to spot fakes. We’d be eager to assist in the production.

The fight against fakes did get a boost this past week as several storefronts in Manhattan’s Chinatown that were raided for selling fake items back in February 2008 were fined $800,000. If they want to reopen, they’ll have to pay the fine.

The group was warned that any future rentals would have to be to legitimate businesses if they want to continue to do business.

The original raid closed 32 stores. If the property owners continue to host illegal vendors and fail to rent to legit businesses, they will face hefty fines or be shut down.

If we take a quick glance in the recent rear view, we’d see a dramatic S-curve, one up, one down. But the line drawn by the steadier, winning hand is cut through the middle of the course. While we must learn from these grand events, our movement requires balance.

There will be upswings and downswings, gentle down-sloping ramps and speed bumps, chutes and ladders. But it’s important to remember that our fight will be won by gradual groundswells, not the rogue waves that currently dominate the media.

Each conversation that you begin about the real cost of the fake trade is its own groundswell. Start enough discussions and the counterfeiters will be caught standing in front of a tsunami holding a fake chamois.

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