August 15th, 2008
11:28 AM GMT
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In France, if you try to get into the country with a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, customs officials will confiscate it from you and slash it to shreds before your eyes.If you tote the same bag around in China, no one will even blink. Despite China's efforts to improve intellectual property rights protection, buying fakes is still not against Chinese law. But should it be?

A shopworker in Beijing holds up a handbag based on a Louis Vuitton design.
A shopworker in Beijing holds up a handbag based on a Louis Vuitton design.

The government has been cracking down on counterfeiting operations especially for the Olympics. Authorities have been carrying out raids in cities such as Shenzhen, an industrial town renowned for its plethora of copied goods like fake DVDs, Prada knock-offs and now even bogus iPhones.

The recent crackdown by authorities has sellers skittish for sure. When we made the 45-minute trip there from Hong Kong, one of the touts took us to a shop operating out of a dodgy hotel. Another showed us his secret chamber in a mall where he displayed his best stuff - all of it safely tucked away from inspectors.

The bottom line is the goods were still on sale.

The counterfeit trade employs a lot of people in China. Lawyers hired by multinational companies have complained to me that the economies of entire towns rely on the manufacturing of illegal products so officials are reluctant to step up their efforts to shut these unlawful factories down.

Some buyers I have spoken to have justified their purchases of fakes, saying the international brands are just greedy and shouldn't be charging so much in the first place.

At the end of the day, everyone agrees it's the buyer who is driving demand. So should the buyer be punished? How embarrassed would you be if your fake LV was ripped to pieces in public? Would it stop you from buying a copied product again?

Let me know how you feel.

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. F. Huber

    I wouldn't even buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag because I don't like the combination of brown and yellow. But I bought a Gucci dress once which I wore so often that it was almost threadbare in a couple of places. So I had it copied twice by a local dressmaker . Would that be classified as "illegal", or what?

    August 15, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  2. Daniel Schmid

    First off, I don't believe anything the Chinese government says when it comes to addressing the manufacture of counterfeit goods; and secondly, I don't know why anyone would pay megabucks for a diaper-brown colored plastic bag with some initials on it in the first place. All these "designer" items are ridiculously overpriced any way and only encourage the fakes.

    August 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Alf

    I believe that it all depends on the circumstances. After all, most goods bought are hardly items needed for one to live and most that are counterfeited are usually ones that are entertainment and leisure goods, i.e. goods that up your social status.

    The ones that should be cracked down are goods that endanger buyers lives, like counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. Anything else goes.

    August 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Sonny R. Ilusorio

    Buying fakes is a form of stealing.

    August 16, 2008 at 2:06 pm |
  5. Sowath

    As a consumer, i believe authentic brand products simply cost too much. If a pair of Nike shoes only cost 5 dollars to make, why should we pay 100 dollars for them?

    August 16, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  6. Bruce Rubin

    Its a purse. Why should my tax dollars be spent to protect the socalled intellectual property rites of the superich???

    August 16, 2008 at 3:14 pm |
  7. Roger

    I have bought quite a few fakes in Shenzen, i see nothing wrong with it, they are often well made goods at very cheap prices – it makes you realise just how much the bug brands make on sales of luxury items.

    We in the west should get less picky about intelectual property laws, they stifle competion and serve to concentrate wealth in a few hands – the French do nothing at all about internet fraudsters opperation in France but they get upset about a few iffy handbags....

    August 16, 2008 at 3:24 pm |
  8. l khan

    not having used a fake so far, I do not have anything against the same and that those who can not afford an original, can follow fashion trends with cheaper versions or whatever. Indeed many friends would not ever consider owning an original, discarding fakes each season as they are far more affordable. Considering fakes give employment to vast cities and communities bringing poor above poverty levels, so much more reason to utilise the same.

    August 16, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  9. Helen Ploderer-King

    I don't know what all the excitement is about. I personally own several antique Louis Vuitton specially made trunks which are probably worth less then a purse at 2500 Euros. Although "hand crafted" the present purses on sale are highly over priced, just as a Ralph Lauren shirt or Polo shirt which are manufactured in Singapore, by manufacturers who I know of. So the cost of = manufacturing a LV purse in France is maybe 200 Euros and the mark up is 100 %. WHy can't someone make a similar purse and charge less.

    August 16, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  10. Tomaž

    A copied product would be similar to, but noticeably distinct from the original product. Of course selling under a brand other than your own should be illegal: you're making a gain based not on your own quality, but on the reputation of someone else. Furthermore, since the counterfeit goods are typically of much lower quality than the original ones, the sellers are also directly hurting the brands.

    Selling "Ralex" watches or "Luis Vuttion" handbags, though, should be permissiable.

    August 16, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  11. wooddoo

    The buyers were right. There's seriously something wrong with the world where a Chanel outfit costs thousands of dollars and a significant proportion of people in almost every country starve. IPR protection should be applied to technologies that encourage life-improving innovation, not to handbags.

    August 16, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Kevin McCreanor

    One does not have to travel to China to buy counterfeit goods. Anyone travelling to Greece and especially to Rhodes, Crete and neighbouring islands can confirm that ALL shops there sell counterfeit designer goods such as belts, handbags, caps, tee-shirts, watches etc. I travel regularly to Greece and have found it safest to buy things such as sun-cream, toothpaste and necesssary medicines her in Norway before I leave. I recently bought Colgate toothpaste in Crete which was supposedly made in Malawi which hardened after opening

    August 16, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  13. Ian Rivlin

    It's tragic that people are so shallow that they buy fakes in the first place. At the very least, it's an admission that they are inadequate and are trying to emulate their over-paid brethren. Yes, it's an outrage that some people are so profligate that they spend a couple of grand on a handbag or maybe a grand for a belt. For heaven's sake, what's happened to our society?? Nonetheless, it's still 100% ethical that the manufacturers have a right to their own intellectual and brand name property. (Having said that, I'd not shed any tears if Luis Vuitton went to the wall – they are the ugly face of an iniquitous society).

    Who cares if a whole city's economy depends on illegal activity? – That's irrelevant. (Would we be concerned if a city were reliant on child prostitution – and faced economic ruin if such activities were stamped out?)

    Let's bring China to book. They are flooding the world with rubbish, they sanction illegal activities, they are the world's leading human rights infringer and are the major contributor to global warming due to over usage of natural resources. We don't need China for anything. We should be making our own products. We don't need to steal, by proxy, in encouraging intellectual theft and inculcating ourselves with this insane "inbuilt-obsolescence" mentality.

    August 16, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  14. Jennifer

    I personally wouldn't buy a fake handbag – and I think it would be hilarious to see someones fake handbag ripped to shreds by French Customs...

    Regardless of designers are charging – if you cannot afford the product it doesn't give you the right to break the law by purchasing a fake. It means you have to find something in your budget – thats what the consumer needs to understand.

    I will say this in the defense of a designer handbag, I'm happy to shell out the 200 plus pounds for one because they last a long time and the value is in their construction and materials. I have one that I've been using for 5 years and probably has another 2 to 5 in it if I take care it. You aren't going to get that quality with a fake.

    August 16, 2008 at 10:43 pm |
  15. anna vitaliana b. nisperos

    Business conscious and intelligent people knows that it's illegal to produce as well as buy fake products. But sometimes, vanity pushes people to buy fakes because they want to be "in" with the latest fashion, but can't afford the price of the genuine ones. So its up to the government of that certain country to impose and implement laws to control, if not prohibit the manufacture, sale, or illegal use of brandnames of (Signatures) branded products. Yes, the buyers should also be punished for tolerating such illegal acts and driving the manufacturers to produce more fakes by buying. I like the idea of confiscating fake LV's in fairness to those who are using genuine ones. I'd rather enjoy using my locally made handbag woven intricately from abaca fibers than be embarassed in public by sporting fake ones.

    August 17, 2008 at 12:08 am |
  16. Jim Graham

    So, did you see any fake Olympics merchandise? I'll bet not. The Chinese authorities have been relentless and brutal in insuring that there is only official merchandise. They appear to have been nearly 100% successful. The authorities know how to control it when it matters to them, at the moment there are too many vested interests in the business of ip theft and counterfeiting in China. Everyone from the manufacturers and their employees, to the government officials (who benefit indirectly – in many cases – directly) to the consumers in China and elsewhere make or 'save' money from this business.

    Yes, it should be illegal in China, as it is in other countries with strictly ip laws. If China wants to join the rest of the developed world, then institutionalized (or at least tacitly acknowledges) theft needs to be stopped. Even if destruction and sanction for the purchaser (as well as the provider) was on the books, I can't imagine the Chinese authorities treating a foreigner, a chinese worker, and a "connected" party member to the same punishment.

    The author is correct, it's the economic incentive that drives them, and until there are strict enough sanctions, it becomes socially unacceptable internationally or there is a strong enough economic disincentive, it's not going to stop. The year the authorities in Beijing become convinced that it's not in China's best interest is the year that 99% of the ip theft "business" will stop. There is growing awareness of the importance of it, and the Chinese defend their own ip vigorously. When there's enough Chinese ip competing in the world market, maybe reform will truly come to China.

    August 17, 2008 at 12:33 am |
  17. Pat Love

    If I had purchased a fake unknowingly I would be so embarrassed if it got ripped to shreds in public

    August 17, 2008 at 1:40 am |
  18. mary

    Copying is the sincerest form of flattery. I still do not know if the 'fakes' I bought in Beijing are the real McCoy! But the comments are ahh!
    How much is a piece of leather worth anyway? :-)

    August 17, 2008 at 1:56 am |
  19. Anthony Davis

    China, among other Asian nations, thrives on this kind of piracy while their governments limit legal foreign imports. I recall visiting Hong Kong some years back to see stocks of Microsoft's latest operating system, not even official yet released on the market, piled high and for sale at cutrate prices. Currently I live in South Korea, where you can walk down the street and find Hollywood DVDs four for ten bucks–and this in a country that touts its own cottage movie industry and limits how many Hollywood movies can play here. My university uses one copy of Microsoft to boot up all their department's computers. Who gets hurt? The consumers who buy substandard products, from fake medicine to knock-off car parts, get hurt. Workers in the West get hurt by steadily losing their jobs to a globalized piracy that works hand-in-glove with import-restricting countries that sanction such piracy to make up for their shortage of honest industry. The quality and accessibility of good products suffers as legit companies either go out of business or else spend exorbant amounts of money trying to control their market while addding copy protection that thieves always end up overcoming. This is a problem requiring global policing with teeth in it for any countries that continue to harbor this kind of illlicit activity.

    August 17, 2008 at 2:37 am |
  20. Rica E.

    I guess I will not feel embarassed if my fake LV bag was ripped to pieces. I'd be angry and yes I'd buy again. For a bag is a bag to me regardless of the name or brand. If it were a good fake and served me for a year or more, i'd cherish and treasure it like a favorite shirt. Yes, there are good fakes and bad fakes. If I could afford the original bags, perhaps I would buy one. But I can't use and abuse an original one the way I would with a fake one.

    I know a neighbor who dedicated an 30sqm just to store 48 original bags [different brands in their original shopping bags with the receipt in them]. She's use them for a week and that's it. She buys them to show them off, than for their functionality.

    August 17, 2008 at 3:16 am |
  21. Ray

    While I agree with such comments, I think it over-simplifies a complex problem. The mentality that justifies saving money to buy fakes comes from a very young age. When Chinese are older, they may buy fake LVs, but this comes from what they have seen throughout their lives.

    It would be like asking Americans to reduce usage of cars and ride bicycles and public transit more often, or recycle their garbage. Such habits won't change overnight once they're 18 and have a driver's license, or if they have been throwing away trash in a single bag throughout their childhood

    I think in both cases, something drastic will be required to change minds in both countries. In the case of fakes, I hope outside countries devise of ways of solving the problem rather than simply do finger-pointing.

    The third-to-last paragraph of the article is often heard but very funny. The very reason why they bought fakes is because the original costs a lot of money; if the originals were cheap, then the fakes no longer acts as a status symbol...

    August 17, 2008 at 3:43 am |
  22. Jimmy

    The buyer and seller should definitely be punished. Remember we are talking about luxury brands, not life-saving medicines. Once you buy a fake you affect the livelihood of workers of legitimate factories that supply these luxury brands. Saying "the international brands are just greedy and shouldn’t be charging so much in the first place" is not a justification. International luxury brands are what they are because of the price they charge. That is what makes them special or "exclusive". If they are greedy, then buyers of fakes are vain and cheap.

    August 17, 2008 at 4:26 am |
  23. Fahir San

    It's true that these international brands are really greedy and in the end some are made in China(low cost).If you can find the same product with a fairy good quality at a fair price,why not buying it..

    August 17, 2008 at 5:47 am |
  24. David Chan

    The so-called luxury brands feed on human vanity - why lament their lost profit when their goods are (1) utterly inessential, not to mention tacky (2) contribute relatively little to design culture (unlike advancements in architecture, technology and green design) (3) exorbitantly priced, thereby inviting copycat ingenuity. What we SHOULD worry about: counterfeiting in medicine, auto parts and goods where shoddy quality puts lives at risk.

    August 17, 2008 at 6:51 am |
  25. Bhavik Soni

    Branded Goods have cultivated a culture of insecurity. If I don't wear an original, I'm not good enough. Somehow wearing the real (spelt hyper-expensive) jeans or dress or accessories will make me a superstar. Brands are for wannabes and insecure people.
    About fakes, I believe that customers of the original wont buy fakes and 90% of copy buyers are people who cannot afford it in the first place. The fake goods are not like fake medicine.... they don't hurt or kill anyone. Fakes are a trip of fantasy for cheap. So why not?

    August 17, 2008 at 8:18 am |
  26. Kimberly M

    It would be interesting to interview people at Charles de Gaulle, arriving from China and Africa. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was stunned by the amount of women happily toting a complete fake while trying to channel Paris Hilton. In Paris, they're not something you see often. They exist....but you see them less often and I think culturally its taboo...worse than taboo...anti-religious perhaps. You do see women of African origins on the train with fake Louis Vuitton woolen blankets, earrings, purses and I believe even shoes. Whenever I see them I'm tempted to ask them questions...but without journalist credentials what's the point? I'm not sure where I would start. Maybe I would ask them if they know what the fine in France is for possession of counterfeit goods. The maximum is over $400k USD. Then maybe I would ask if they knew they could go to prison for possession of counterfeit goods. It would be interesting to learn why people think its okay. It would be interesting to hear how they substantiate the idea that these companies price their goods too high. Counterfeiting needs a real exposé! Quality, the luxury market, the mass luxury market, the counterfeit market, where the profit goes and who helps, why the profits aren't many questions. Want a Paris-based scout?? ;)

    August 17, 2008 at 8:47 am |
  27. Imani

    Louis Vuitton???

    I'm too worried about home heating fuel this coming winter to even think about the real deal or the fakes even. Let us get our priorities straight! Who cares about a handbag in the grand scheme of things?

    And if you do, you have way too much money...please donate to some family working hard to make ends meet. At least when you are gone, somebody will remember you for doing some good for the world not for your Louis Vuittons or fakes.

    August 18, 2008 at 10:42 pm |

    fake products are moving the artisan business to china,and stealing them from traditional hard workers that have built up the 'brand' looks through their excellent craftmanship through many years. producing faked products is stealing the income of the poor craftman of other countries.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:14 am |
  29. Filip

    Lets just be clear that LVMH and the likes lose exactly 0 customers because of fake goods. Potential luxury brand customers are not the ones buying fakes. These brands instead gain massive publicity and become even more coveted.

    August 19, 2008 at 8:21 am |
  30. Del

    My wife, who can afford and do buy genuine LVMH bags and other brands, gets a thrill buying fakes at Beijing or Hongkong or South Korea. She picks the occasions to carry the genuines or the fakes.

    August 19, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  31. Gil C.

    Think of this way. China is not the only place where sell/make counterfeit products. If it's a problem, then its globally.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  32. Michael B

    For people buying a luxury brand, it goes far beyond paying a sum of money for something that many think is overpriced. It is the purchase experience. It is the genuine product and its history. Above all it represents something they want to be associated with, and only an original can truly evoke that sense of association. Its the 'it' factor and is why 'brand' means so much. At all levels, it must be protected. Where would it stop? Is it okay to fake LV bags? Is it okay to fake baby formula? If you think it is okay to copy somethings like clothing or bags, ask yourself this. If you had an idea, or created a business, how would you feel if someone copied it and sold it as their own? The peddling of fakes is criminal activity. If your desire to be associated with a brand is so great as to be motivated to buy a fake, you're not just supporting such activity, you simply don't get the brand relationship you so desparately want to buy into.

    August 19, 2008 at 8:45 pm |
  33. joe barnahan

    the big brand names should also make a much cheeper line to compete with the fakes. if you can't beat them join them and you will make both the rich customer and the not so rich customer all your customers. they would give a lot of compition to the fakes. remember prohabition that didn't stop people from drinking it just made the mafia rich

    August 20, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  34. Mr. M

    If a copy or fake hurts anyone such as fake replica LV, Fendi, Gucci, Burberry or any other fake handbag actually hurts someone – ok flip out, scream, cry fowl, stamp your feet, make laws, really go after manufacturers, sellers or purse party host moms.

    People who buy these products drive demand. Who's fault is it really? Manufacturers and sellers are only giving the people what they want to buy. I've heard of these fakes being connected to terrorism – unsubstantiated as far as I know.

    LV, Burberry, Kate Spade or any other overpriced luxury accessory house lose no customers to these purses and are not hurt by this. Their customers typically don't buy fakes anyway. THEY can afford the real ones.

    So if they don't hurt anyone GET OVER IT! It's a freakin purse for crying out loud. They're not medicine, car brakes or batteries for your heart monitor. GET OVER IT!

    Would I be embarrassed to have a fake destroyed in public? Uhhh No. Becase I know I could get another for $250 instead of $1000.

    LV can boo hoo till the cows come home – I'm just not listening, sorry.

    August 20, 2008 at 5:50 am |
  35. liza c.

    Counterfeiting anything is illegal and hence should never be tolerated at any level whether it is bags, medicines, dvd's, music, lterature, art. Let us not allow this to continue by patronizing such. If we do so we are saying it is okay to "steal" as long as we benefit from it.

    August 20, 2008 at 6:00 am |
  36. Korey Ander

    French guards tore my wifes authentic LV bag to pieces. She saved money to buy it because she loved its design and thought it would be nice to have a high-quality bag with a reliable brand. The Frenchmen didn't agree, they incorrectly identified it as a "fake" even though the bag included the reciept from the New York store where it was purchased. I guess poor people are not approved as LV customers. Either that, or French are just not good at their jobs.

    August 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm |
  37. Nicholas Folkes

    China should be punished for pushing stolen brand names, stealing intellectual property and infringement. China plays by its own rules, no rules but a free for all. Imagine if these brands were Chinese or Asian and Western nations were counterfeiting goods and destroying brand names in the process? The Chinese would be jumping up and down in protest. Manufacturing or buying fake goods is theft. Many might see it otherwise but the reality and definition is theft and that is wrong. When I go to Thailand and see so many people with fakes it looks trashy, fakes are trashy.

    August 22, 2008 at 3:13 am |
  38. mams

    i don t see anything wrong with buying fake items ; one some would like to wear some designed cloths but are not having that kind of money to buy the real one ( income problems),second its helping people by offering so many jobs

    August 22, 2008 at 4:11 pm |
  39. Karen

    The thing is, that this will never stop, just because not everyone can afford luxury at this cost, so this fakes make the consumer happy in terms, that he can buy what he likes at a low price..

    September 8, 2008 at 9:47 am |
  40. Alex Wong

    Considering the income of the average Chinese worker, I doubt that by cracking down on fakes would have an upside impact on the demand for originals. Although one can say that the counterfeits are hurting the original's brand image, it certainly has not caused much adverse effects on the original's retail prices.

    September 13, 2008 at 4:05 am |
  41. sarahbelll

    I don't think I've seen this said that way before. You actually have cleared this up for me. Thank you!

    March 29, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  42. Michelle

    Fakes hurt the designers they copy. People will choose not to buy the real products because people will confuse the real products as being fake anyway.

    June 24, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  43. Aurielle Carryland

    What a great post! I am just a beginner in community management/marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well – resources like this blog are very helpful. As our company is based in the U.S., it's all a little new to us. The example above is something that I worry about as well, how to show your own actual enthusiasm and share the fact that your product is useful in that case.

    April 7, 2011 at 2:20 am |
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