Awarding shameless counterfeits
What was once a cottage industry, has in times of Internet and globalisation developed into a professionally operating counterfeiting business with a global network. The facets of product and brand piracy are quite diverse: they include brand name counterfeits, design plagiarism, technology theft and pirate copies. Meanwhile, all of these are available at diverse prices and quality levels, from cheap and dangerous knock-offs to high-quality imitations, that are hardly cheaper than the original product. No matter what category, cheap copies are not created inadvertently. The counterfeiters act rather deliberately, unscrupulously and driven by greed.
They only copy marketready products for which there is already a demand and thus minimise their own entrepreneurial risk - and all too often also their entrepreneurial responsibility. The majority of counterfeiters still use inferior materials, deliberately omit quality- and safety controls and produce under degrading working conditions. Thus, they recklessly put factory workers’ and consumers’ health at risk. De facto the “business model counterfeit” is extremely lucrative while the risk of being prosecuted is very low. Accordingly, the offenders are comprised of unimaginative competitors, small-time up to organised criminals, and, recently verified: terrorist groups. The last mentioned used cigarette smuggling and trade of counterfeits to finance their terroristic activities. In regards to the world-wide distribution of illicit goods, they often used the existing infrastructure, for example: traffic in drugs, arms and human beings.
Product piracy today
The internet and digital communication are major factors for the immense increase of brand and product piracy. Although international police authorities close down tens of thousands of websites for trade of counterfeits annually, the supply of illegal fakes and design imitations is unabatedly high. Often, these vendors reappear in a minimum of time with new brand and domain names to continue their business. Clearly, the convenient 24-hour worldwide availability of large quantities of alleged brand products at bargain prices motivates consumers to purchase. The counterfeiters easily deceive and insidiously entice the online-shoppers with photos of the original products as well as fake customer ratings and fake quality seals. Also, gullible bargain hunters often follow recommendations made in social networks and quickly and uncritically click on “Purchase”, without thoroughly verifying the site notice, the payment terms, the cancellation policy and the general integrity of the provider. Yet, especially when buying on the Internet, common sense and a close inspection of the offer are essential. Experts from the consumer advice centres warn customers to conclude their purchase when the website contains all too many grammar and spelling mistakes or when e.g. “advance payment” is the only payment term offered. We know from the experience of cheated buyers that dubious vendors usually do not accept returns or provide refunds. The operators of Fake-Shops successfully veil themselves in the anonymity of the World Wide Web and sellers on huge online marketplaces often use fake identities and daily changing accounts. In order to protect consumers from fraudulent sellers, many brand owners provide lists of authorised retailers on their websites. Frighteningly, even leading marketplace operators (e.g. Amazon USA) do not make serious efforts to support brand name producers in their fight against illegal offers.