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April 30, 2007

Foolproof fingerprints

The current issue of New Scientist has an informative article on the latest developments in using product fingerprint technology to detect fakes.  Of course, long-time readers of Counterfeit Chic know that the fingerprint metaphor in anti-counterfeiting tech has a more literal prototype: Madeline Vionnet's inked thumbprint pressed into her clothing label!

Vionnet fingerprint label

April 29, 2007

Double trouble for celebrity designers?

Fleet Street is abuzz with anticipation for May 1st launch of the new Kate Moss line at Topshop.  However, not all the news is good.  A number of reports in both the UK and US focus on the derivative nature of her designs, whose chief inspiration seems to be clothes that Moss had previously worn

Kate Moss in 1998 (l) and in a KM

Beyond tabloid jabs such as "DupliKate" and "Copy Kate" established designers have been highly critical of the collection.  In fact, several have seized on the occasion to criticize celebrity labels as unoriginal and deleterious to the future of innovative design.  Here, for example, is the lively response of two-time British Designer of the Year Jeff Banks, who asserts that "to claim the product has actually been designed by the celeb beggars belief."

"Can Kate sharpen a pencil or draw a matchstick man? Banks asked. "I wouldn't put money on it. I'll bet [Kate Moss] just grabbed one of her many Prada bags, rifled through her wardrobe ... and turned up at Topshop's head office in Oxford Street for a quick hour's briefing with the in-house designers and buying staff." 

Malcolm Burkinshaw, a fashion educator & former Benetton designer, likewise observes that

looking at the Kate Moss range, every item is a copy of a piece from her wardrobe or a version of it, which isn't design, it's rip-off. The lowest ends of fashion do this.

Will the celebrity design bubble burst?

April 27, 2007

Knockoff News 57

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

Hello Kitty ponders her choice of weapon

April 26, 2007

It's baaack!

Nicole Miller goes to Washington

Longtime readers of Counterfeit Chic may remember the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, legislation that would extend a limited version of copyright protection to clothing.  (For my Congressional testimony in support of H.R. 5055, click here and here.)  Pictured left:  Nicole Miller with Representatives Bill Delahunt and Carolyn Maloney at yesterday's press conference to mark the bill's re-introduction for the new Congress.  For more on this proposed law from Nicole Miller, Diane von Furstenberg and other luminaries, read the latest update from WWD--and be sure to click today while its free!

Hello Trellos, Goodbye Crocs?

Trellos vs. Crocs

News of yet another knockoff of the all too ubiquitous Croc should come as no surprise, which is why the ever-alert Fashionista initially chose not to sound the alarm.  What sets these particular low-end copies apart, however, is that they are a house brand for Lands' End, which also sells Crocs

Why would a leading retailer try to cut the tail off of one of its own suppliers?  In all likelihood, Lands' End figured that doing so was a no-lose proposition.  On the one hand, offering a proprietary version could draw in beach-bound customers looking for a cheaper or new design.  If the customer likes the Trellos, Lands' End benefits from increased sales at a higher profit margin for the in-store brand.  Conversely, should the customer prefer the Crocs, Lands' End still chalks up a sale that might have otherwise gone to a competitor.

This strategy is not particularly innovative, as evidenced by the various house brands available at grocery and department stores.  What makes the Trellos particularly daring is Crocs' well known propensity to sue for infringement of its utility and design patents as well as trade dress.   Lands' End has taken a small step toward protecting itself by making slight variations in the Trellos' design, but perhaps the biggest thing protecting Lands' End is the likelihood that Crocs would not dare put the bite on one of its largest retailers.  

April 23, 2007

Capital Idea

Fashion houses understand the value of protecting their creations to the (somewhat limited) extent provided by law, even if that means focusing on trademarks rather than the designs themselves, and many emerging designers quickly learn the same lesson. 

Now WWD reports on a new trend that makes intellectual property even more valuable -- the increasing willingness of factoring companies to lend against the value of the trademark or brand itself.  Traditionally, factors lend against accounts receivable, thus providing the necessary cash for, say, a designer with retail orders to purchase fabric and pay for production and shipping.  Once the clothing reaches stores, consumers (hopefully) purchase the items.  The designer finally receives a check, the loan gets repaid.  As reporter Lisa Casabona notes in the case of loans against IP:

Generally speaking, making sure the loan is protected is not much different from the preparation that goes into lending against other assets such as receivables, inventory, warehouses, real estate or equipment, sources said.  The specifics are different because of the nature of intellectual property assets.

"The risk is more because you are in theory lending against intangible assets which must maintain that intangible value," said [Andrew Tananbaum, president and CEO of Capital Business Credit].

In other words, now more than ever intellectual property is the cake that you can have and eat, too.  Put the trademark on the label and sell it to consumers, use the trademark as capital for a loan, and perhaps one day sell the trademark itself and let someone else worry about management while you design for the runway.  If only real cake were similarly renewable (minus the calories, of course).

(Once again, thanks to Hokusai for the counterfeit cake!)

April 22, 2007

Love-Hate Relationship

If Consumer Reports suddenly decided to review illegal products, the author of a new blog called "It Takes a Fake" would be an ideal editorial prospect. 

The site's inaugural project involves ordering counterfeit Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 bags from 5 "replica" sites and reviewing them for quality and authentic detail.  Thus far, only one has arrived, and it failed to impress -- indeed, it is destined to be returned, with hopes of receiving a refund (less a 30% restocking fee, not atypical for sites that sell poor-quality fakes likely to be rejected by buyers). 

A real Louis Vuitton Speedy 30

If the site's mission is real, and not a bizarre viral marketing scam ultimately intended to endorse particular counterfeit retailers or, alternatively, to expose the shoddy nature of their goods, it points to a certain psychological dilemma.  "Lisamarie" -- whoever she may be -- is in thrall to pricey designer goods, to the point of starting a blog about them, yet at the same time resents them.  Although deeply invested in the details of a real Speedy, which retails online at USD $620, she would rather order multiple fakes and spend hours examining and writing about them.  Given that she reports paying a rather steep USD $132 for the first specimen, the copies could collectively cost more than the real thing -- surely a false economy.

This peculiar obsession, however, is cast as a public service project:

[It Takes a Fake] is for those who are not afraid to say,,, I like to fake it. I will search and research the best in the world of faux\fake products. From fake bags to fake boobs. From the best to the worst, what your money will get you. I will find and post the best places to go and get the #1 fakes you want. I will find the best for your buck.

Of course, sites selling fake handbags appear and disappear with such regularity that, even should the reviewer find a bag that meets her standards, the purveyor's site may be long gone by the time that Lisamarie's readers get there.  Indeed, somewhere an intern for LVMH's legal department may even now be bookmarking her site. 

Lisamarie does "not care to hear about the laws and all the negative thought on knockoff bags," so I'll spare the warnings about getting involved in resale of fake bags or taking kickbacks from recommended sites.   But if I've noticed FBI visits to this site, a purely academic endeavor (Hi, guys!  How's it hangin'?), then surely a conduit to counterfeiters will attract notice as well. 

April 20, 2007

Name 'Em and Shame 'Em

Legal systems are predicated on the basic idea that dispute resolution and the righting of wrongs is better achieved through peaceful adjudication than, say, punching the other guy in the nose.  The downside is that the ostensibly civilized path to justice can be an expensive and time-consuming one, and not every ethical wrong is as yet protected by a legal right. 

Enter, then, the court of public opinion, where judgment is at least swift -- especially on the internet. 

Urban Counterfeiters is one such venue, dedicated to "bringing American consumers reports from small companies and artists who have been taken advantage of by large corporations."  (See also previously featured site You Thought We Wouldn't Notice....)  As you might expect, the Urban Outfitters chain ("the Wal-Mart of cool") is among UC's targets -- and has been subjected to not only online disapprobation but old-fashioned in-the-flesh protest and pamphleteering as well. 

Crownfarmer and Urban Outfitters shirts

Could the T-shirts designs and other original creations on the site have been protected by copyright or perhaps trademark law?  In many instances, yes.  But in the meantime, a bit of (judiciously exercised) extra-judicial action certainly sends a message. 

Many thanks to my engaged and engaging student James Creedon, Fordham law library guru Larry Abraham, and above all Anonymous for making sure that I finally posted this one!  And don't forget to head over to Murketing for further reflections on the subject. 

April 19, 2007

Gallic Court Galled by Galliano

John GallianoJohn Galliano, chief designer for Dior as well as for his own label, is an inspired sculptor of textiles -- but his creativity in the photographic realm has been called into question.

A French court ruled that a Galliano ad campaign copied the work of well-known US photographer William Klein, and the judge ordered the designer to pay 200,000 euros (approx. USD $275,000) in compensation. 

Galliano's lawyer contends that the ads, shot by Julien d'Ys and featuring model Agyness Deyn, did not resemble images from Klein's original work and thus should not be considered copies.  The appearance of the ads, however, apparently mimicked Klein's "painted contacts" technique, in which black-and-white photo contact sheets are blown up and marked with enamel paint in primary colors to highlight the images.  Klein developed the style over 15 years ago, and his work was the subject of a 2005 retrospective at the Pompidou Center in Paris, where both parties live and work. 

Both sides are likely to appeal.  

Would a similar ruling result under US law?  Not exactly, since 25% of the award was reportedly for damages to the reputation of Klein's work, a moral rights claim that would have little resonance in American jurisprudence.  Copying the recognized style of another artist, however, recalls the case of Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures, 663 F. Supp. 796 (S.D.N.Y 1987), in which a federal district court found that a movie poster imitating the style (and some of the substance) of a well-known New Yorker magazine cover was an infringement of copyright.  Although the Galliano ads are not alleged to have reproduced specific scenes from Klein's work, the photographer's style alone is highly recognizable.  Even if an unsympathetic court might dismiss the technique as an unprotectable "idea" under copyright, a colorable trade dress or unfair competition claim might stand.  After all, Klein learned of the ads when a friend saw them and asked why he'd (apparently) done such poor work for Galliano. 

The moral of the story:  Unless you're looking for a fight, don't advertise original work with knockoff images.  At least not in French Vogue. 

A William Klein original

Thanks to Nancy Prager, Esq., for the tip -- and don't forget to check out her blog!

UPDATE:  Le Monde's detailed report of the case, courtesy of Alain Coblence.  Merci!

April 17, 2007

Welcome Ranch & Coast Readers!

Thanks to the aptly named Cody Goodfellow for exploring "the dark side of style" in this month's Ranch & Coast magazine, with quotes from your humble blogger.  If only I'd been in sunny San Diego for the interview! 

April 16, 2007

In Memoriam

A University should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning.

--Benjamin Disraeli

April 15, 2007

Knockoff News 56

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

Featured this week, here's a most unusual argument for wearing real over fake, courtesy of Japanese designer Chie Imai:

And finally, many thanks to Likelihood of Success (see also perennial fave Likelihood of Confusion) for the good words!  If Counterfeit Chic weren't already pink, it would be blushing. 

April 12, 2007

Counterfeit Coffee Break 4

Vacationing in Germany anytime soon?  If so, take a break from cathedrals, museums, and beer to visit the Plagiarius Museum outside Cologne, an entire institution dedicated to "innovation contra imitation." 

Among the institution's programs are the annual Plagiarius Awards, given to blatant copies of designed objects, frequently German originals.  The museum reports that some companies whose knockoffs have received the dubious honor have been deterrerd from future production or embarrassed into seeking licensing agreements.  The moral (because German folktales always have a moral):  Even if you can't bring a lawsuit, you can always name 'em and shame 'em -- especially online.

Among the 2007 award "winners" is the perfect pot for your counterfeit coffee break, originally by alfi and knocked off by the He Shan Jia Hui Vaccuum Flask & Vessel Co.:

And if you plan to do a bit of shopping during your visit, perhaps the museum will offer an original Reisenthel Accessories basket knocked off by, well, everyone (thus prompting the new Hyena Prize, presumably for copyists who hunt in packs):

Counterfeit confession:  When I first ran across a report of this museum, I thought it must be an April Fool's joke.  (Context is everything.)  Many thanks to my fabulous and fashionable student Suzana Carlos for setting the record straight!

April 11, 2007

Geneva Convention, Anyone?

As even the most staid news outlets have noted, Iran didn't score any style points with the ill-fitting grey suits issued to the released British soldiers last week. 

Now it turns out that Iran wasn't particularly attuned to trademark law either.  The shirts given to the crew were  -- you guessed it -- fake.  Counterfeit Hugo Boss to be exact, and not exactly up to the sartorial standards of Her Majesty's Royal Navy.  In the words of crewman Arthur Batchelor, "I could pick up a better outfit at a jumble sale."

Iran isn't yet  a member of the WTO, but it has joined several international intellectual property conventions, including the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks, the Madrid Protocol, and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.  I don't know whether Hugo Boss has ever availed itself of trademark registration in Iran, but perhaps unfair competition law would nevertheless come into play.

And apart from IP issues, there surely must be a human rights violation here somewhere.

April 09, 2007

Knockoff News 55

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And as soon as the WTO returns from its Easter break (why create a bureaucracy if not for the long weekends?), the U.S. will file a pair of cases against China.  One seeks greater market access for copyrighted U.S. goods; the other demands greater intellectual property law enforcement.

April 08, 2007

No Pictures, Please!

Designers frequently complain of uninvited photographers snapping pictures at trade shows and in retail venues, presumably with intent to copy the designs.  Some concerned stores, in an effort to protect their investments as well as their designer sources, ban in-store photography altogether.  One millinery expert, however, says that it takes more than a photo to make a knockoff hat -- or at least a "decent" one. 

So put on your Easter bonnet, head out to the closest parade, and smile for the cameras!

Philip Treacy couture hat 2000

Happy Easter!

April 05, 2007

Tourists Trapped!

A knockoff shopping expedition lasted longer than expected for 12 tourists visiting New York's Chinatown yesterday.  The New York Post reports that when police raided the building, the counterfeit retailers refused to let the would-be customers leave the basement -- for 2 hours.

When cops cataloging fake merchandise finally received a call alerting them to the presence of unwilling guests downstairs, they found not only visitors from Spain, Georgia, and Florida, but also a cache of counterfeit Cartier and Rolex watches.  Apparently the tourists were relieved not to be in legal trouble themselves, but the same can't be said for their hosts, three of whom have been charged with unlawful imprisonment as well as counterfeiting. 

Having witnessed similar (albeit much shorter term) behavior by merchants anticipating a raid, I can imagine the tourists' discomfort at their predicament.  Then again, it could have been worse -- at least they weren't stuck on JetBlue.

April 04, 2007

Welcome WWD readers!

In today's WWD, fabulous fashion and technology reporter Cate Corcoran scopes out the multi-billion-dollar issue of online sales of counterfeit goods.  But never fear, software is here.  Companies like MarkMonitor, OpSec, and Envisional have developed programs that crawl the internet on behalf of their name-brand clients, searching for suspicious patterns and products.  In addition, brands such as Seven for All Mankind and DVF are turning their customers into detectives by promoting online reporting of fakes. 

As your humble blogger noted, TV and the internet have made customers more brand-conscious, and online retailing promotes broader access to these brands -- and their imitators.  Or more succinctly, "As customers go online, the counterfeit sellers will follow." 

Thanks for the shout-out, Cate!

April 02, 2007

Leavening Literature

To celebrate Passover in Counterfeit Chic style, pick up Abraham Cahan's classic 1917 novel, The Rise of David Levinsky.  It's an immigrant's tale of the cost of assimilation and American-style success, as well as an inside look at the early 20th-century garment industry in New York, knockoffs and all. 

Thanks to Professors Sondra Leftoff and Shubha Ghosh for independently recommending this book.  Great minds think alike. 

April 01, 2007

Little Red Bookbag

Has capitalism finally defeated communism, or vice versa? 

In order to make a statement about the importance of China as an emerging market, and also about the need for greater cooperation in intellectual property law enforcement, Louis Vuitton has created a new Monogram Vernis.  Copies of the limited edition bag, which incorporates one of Andy Warhol's famous images of Chairman Mao, will be presented to Chinese officials at a summit meeting in Paris today. 

Happy April Fools' Day!

It seems that French is still unrivaled as the international language of diplomacy, as least when it comes to fashion.  But will the inevitable counterfeits on eBay be considered an act of war?

UPDATE:  Following today's negotiations, China has agreed to purchase Louis Vuitton's parent company, which will be known as LVMHPRC.  Adds one senior executive, "It was the only way to stop knockoffs."