Thursday, November 27, 2008


For some reason I've been thinking about counterfeit goods lately. In the art world, it seems pretty much universally accepted that forgeries are inferior to original works of art. While debate continues as to whether the fact of a forgery causes a work of art to be actually aesthetically inferior, or inferior on a range of other grounds including the importance of originality, art history and economics, this would seem beside the point – in any event, a number of well reasoned arguments are given for the fact that counterfeit or forged artworks are inferior. Forgery is also a problem in the fashion world – almost everyone has seen counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags sold in back alleys the world over. This forgery is decried universally by the fashion industry. However, the arguments to this effect seem weak. Cynthia Nellis provides some reasons why counterfeit 'high-fashion' items should not be supported:

1.Counterfeiting robs the U.S. alone of more than $200 billion a year. It's a cash, tax-free business; legitimate citizens like yourself will still get stuck paying taxes, while counterfeiters line their pockets at your expense.

2. Terrorists, gangs and organized crime syndicates all profit from selling counterfeit merchandise. Sometimes designer handbag knockoffs are lined with drugs and used for smuggling things like heroin, too. There is also evidence that the bombing of the World Trade Center in '93 was funded by the sale of counterfeit apparel.

3. You might realize that things like knockoff toys or electronics are an unsafe idea, but did you know that even items such as fake sunglasses can hurt you. According to IACC counterfeit sunglasses can shatter easily; they may fail to provide UV protection as advertised.

In summary: We should support counterfeit goods because they're tax free, support terrorism and will hurt you. This sounds like scare-mongering – terrorists and cut eyes! Bin Laden's money comes from construction, and anyone believing that the UV protection quality of a $5 pair of sunglasses would always be equal to that of a $500 pair would seem to deserve retinal damage, if only to advance natural selection. As for the tax thing – this would seem to rely on the idea that there is something morally wrong or reprehensible about tax evasion, which is a far wider issue than the one in question here.

Nellis goes on to say that “now, fakes are so good that you simply can't tell the difference”. If so, why should it matter who makes them, if the end product is essentially the same? The only difference in this transaction would seem to be that money is going to Chinese enterprises, rather than Western shareholders.

This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with counterfeitting, but rather that some arguments advanced for this idea seem rather weak. A better explanation for the problem with counterfeit fashion would include reference to the originality of a design, and this forming the basis of value in expensive fashion items. Also, it cannot be ignored that much of the appeal of such items comes from the fact that their price elevates them to the standard of “luxury goods”, inaccessible to a majority of people. You could even say this is the basis of these brand's appeal – status symbols. With counterfeits, this value is eroded. Such arguments probably do already exist in a fully reasoned form, but if so I can't find the articles. Sorry, Google, for I have failed you.

1 comment:

James said...

What about the fact that the deisgners of original fashions/artworks/medicines (I know you didn't use this as an example, but it happens too) have very high set up costs to design the product in the first place? It might cost them several hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay a designer (one who has high pulling power in consumer circles) to design the product and while the actual cost of production may be closer to the price offered by the counterfeiters the production company also has to cover the cost of the original design. The problem here is that the counterfeiters do not have to cover this cost. And thus they are freely reaping the rewards of another company/designer's hard work/monetary set up costs.

Say you were in a band that spent several years writing and perfecting songs for an album, only to find that someone had listened in on your jamming sessions and stolen the songs (having not had to write them themselves, they just spent a few days figuring them out) and was selling their album for profit. You'd be pissed right? I think its safe to say that the fashion/art/medicinal worlds are entitled to be pissed at their counterfeiters too.

Just a thought, anyway.