Counterfeit products cost the global economy up to $250 million a year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). People buy imitation designer items or knockoffs without a second thought, but in this case, ignorance is not bliss. Counterfeit products are usually made in terrible working conditions, sometimes even by children. Alongside these human rights issues, there are also the problems of plagiarism and loss of money for the original brand.
All counterfeits are knock-offs, but not all knock-offs are counterfeits. According to the Legal Information Institute (LII), the term counterfeit is used in federal law and counterfeits are illegal under US trademark regulation. A knock-off is a product that copies or imitates other products, but it is not necessarily illegal. To differentiate between the two, check whether the product copies a registered trademark name or logo. If there is a recognizable emblem, it is probably a counterfeit; if not, it may simply be a knockoff.
Uninformed shoppers may believe that counterfeit goods are harmless bargains. However, underpaid workers create many of these products in terrible working conditions using old and hazardous equipment. Some counterfeit producers utilize illegal child labor – many workers are children ages 14 and younger. In 2008, a Chinese police raid of a tenement in Guangzhou revealed “two dozen sad, tired, dirty children, ages 8 to 14, making fake Dunhill, Versace and Hugo Boss handbags on old, rusty sewing machines,” as described by fashion and culture journalist Dana Thomas, who accompanied the police. In another location, Thomas found children chained to their working stations as punishment for asking if they could play outside.
“I think it’s really sad that we don’t realize where our luxury items come from. It’s really shocking how the “Chanel” purse you carry around can carry the blood, sweat and tears of children,” Sophomore Kimia Majd said.
Two other issues with buying fake designer items are plagiarism of the designer’s ideas and the loss of profit. The latter is somewhat harder to sympathize with because most accomplished designers are deemed well-off. However, artistic and intellectual integrity is something anyone who creates a product should value. In an episode of Say Yes to the Dress , fashion designer Pnina Tornai saw a lady try on a dress she believed was one of hers. She became upset upon discovering that the dress was a cheaper imitation that had copied her designs.
“Although I understand why people would buy designer knock offs, I think we should stick to buying the real thing because buying knock offs hurts the brand that deserves the profits for the product,” Junior Alison Tran said.
However, most consumers who purchase knockoffs do not see things from the designers’ perspective. Often, customers are not purposely disrespecting designers’ ideas or denying designers their money; they are simply trying to look out for their own wallets.
“When you see a dress that is pretty and also well-priced, that’s really the only thing that matters. I don’t usually think about the designer’s feelings, and most of the time, I don’t even know I am buying a copy,” Sophomore Reva Kulkarni said.
Still, the burgeoning counterfeit industry poses a real problem: even if designers can afford the financial losses, counterfeits cost the golobal economy billions of dollars each year. Products ranging from clothing to optical media products (games, DVDs and CDs) to pharmaceuticals are produced, often in inhumane conditions, and smuggled into countries like the U.S., where they are purchased by unknowing consumers.
The only thing that will stop economic and ethical issues associated with knockoff products is education, awareness and reform. Customers purchasing products should take the time to know what exactly they are buying and how it was made.