Counterfeiting…who will stop it?

It is quite extraordinary if you chance upon certain counterfeit items, the extraordinary lengths the counterfeiter will go to, in order to replicate the original detail. It is believed that many counterfeit products come from the original factories. The channels of distribution are varied. In the past we, in the UK, would generally come across counterfeits on street markets, boot sales, pubs, or the backs of vans. Today, the volume comes through the internet.
Some within the party market, would say fortunately it is not something they come across. If only that were true. There is a huge amount of counterfeit product arriving on our door step and mainly through the internet. What is particularly odd, is that it appears very open and obvious.

As far as we are concerned there are a number of types of counterfeits that affect our market.

• Branded licensed product

• Generic designs but counterfeit EU labelling (costumes and party items)

• Counterfeit copyright design graphics. This is more copyright infringement rather than actual counterfeit product. There is a legal difference but the effect is the same.

Branded licensed product

This takes various forms. An example is say a Frozen costume. It is not difficult to find this particular item. You only have to log into EBay, type in the description and it won’t be long before some examples appear. At the time of writing, the first 6 entries were based in China or Hong Kong. As to whether they are counterfeit, the reader would not be qualified to know but the price and image would suggest that they probably are. Within Amazon it is not so obvious. However, if you dig deeper, it would not be long before you find offending articles and from UK sellers. To quote a review from a happy customer on one resellers shop ‘….it is not Disney product, but it was not a Disney price…..’

Generic Designs

This refers to a design such as a Pirate costume that does not infringe anyone design or copyright but generally comes directly out the Far East and where relevant, has never seen the inside of a testing lab yet carries a CE mark plus text to say it conforms to the relevant EN procedure. This does not involve just costumes but also party products eg latex balloons, plastic party items , in particular loot bag toys, blowouts, party poppers, and numerous other ‘accessory products’.

Counterfeit copyright design graphics

Licensed party product and decoration, where the design is infringed.

A further form of counterfeiting which is rather more furtive. There are online sellers who will use the bar codes, descriptions of well-respected brands to make the sale but then substitute it with cheaper and inferior product.

It is a big problem and will only get bigger, especially when players like Alibaba & Aliexpress become more focused on the European markets. It would appear on the surface that the big players seem to be doing little about it. There is an argument, mainly promoted by the likes of Amazon and EBay that the problem is so big that it is too big to police. There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this. However, speaking to UK resellers many would say that they are very quick to pounce on them with dubious and often fallacious claims of selling counterfeits. One reseller said they were upbraided by Google+ for using a genuine logo with a genuine product .

This would be appear on the surface to somewhat bonkers, as surely, one way to identify brands is by using genuine logos. Having been shown sites that clearly do not have genuine products, and do not pretend to use logos purely words Frozen and Winnie the Pooh for example. Surely it is not beyond the wit and ken of these behemoths to write software that high light such anomalies.

Perhaps the more honest conclusion is that the legal complexities between nation states makes this a complete nightmare. A leading law firm ‘… said there has been a sharp rise in European litigation and soaring costs for businesses trying to stop the theft of their trademarks, products and content…’ makers of the Rubik’s cube have said it has sued the European Court of Justices over delays in trying to trademark its shape. The case began in 2006.

Local primary suppliers in the UK are trying their best but ultimately it is a bit ‘King Canute like’. One method they are trying to use is encouraging their customers not to cut prices. This is not a convincing argument , as increased margins only increase the motivation to counterfeit.

This problem is not going to go away. It is very difficult to see how it will get any better. Licensors (the Brand owners) not the licensees need to work closely with the online masters of the universe. A further simpler but less likely step would be to convince the consumer that they are getting a fair deal and value for money as opposed to looking elsewhere because of the perception of a ‘Disney Price’.

If we can sit on our sofa, make a few taps on our screen, have a video conversation with a friend 12,000 miles away or make a purchase that arrives the following morning, surely the technology giants can stop a load of hooky gear being sold. Stopping deals in dodgy played in out of the way pubs, or gear being flogged on the street corner, back of the van , all very nefarious and tough to police. But when counterfeit product is blatantly flouted in the virtual shop windows of the worlds biggest on line retailers, it is hard to swallow .

This a shortened version on article I have written for Party Party, which should be published in the next edition. However, as it consistently rears its ugly head, I felt that any thought or discussion would not benefit from waiting a couple of months.

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