Yesterday, we reported on the recent lawsuit brought by Switzerland-based luxury giant Compagnie Financiére Richemont against business-to-business online marketplace Tradekey.com. Judge Gary Allen Fees of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California found that Trade Key “actively promoted and facilitated the sale” of counterfeit goods and thus, had the knowledge required to be held responsible for the sale of those goods. This decision is a huge victory for designers and brand owners, as it means that Internet platforms can be held liable when they offer active assistance to those selling counterfeit goods or for failing to prevent infringement. Essentially this case means that online marketplaces and social networking sites can’t look the other way when it comes to counterfeit goods.
In addition to widening the pool of those liable in the sale of counterfeit goods, this decision recognizes how destructive counterfeit goods are while also bringing to mind all of our reasons for despising the business of counterfeits. The first is short and simple: counterfeits are the bane of fashion’s existence. Second, while we recognize that there should be no one more interested in brand protection than a designer or a design house, we also applaud a decision that requires other parties to take responsibility. For far too long there has been a lack of legal protection available in fashion, and to say that an online marketplace can profit from the sale of counterfeit goods with no real repercussions or accountability (as was the takeaway from the Tiffany v. eBaycase) seems dangerous to the future of fashion.
Third, counterfeits diminish the exclusivity and appeal of a brand’s name, especially for highly counterfeited brands like Louis Vuitton. When every other person has a bag with the iconic LV mark, it becomes less of a lust-worthy experience, as indicated by LV's somewhat lackluster growth as of late and the house's subsequent attempts to re-vamp its image. Also, when a person with a counterfeit LV bag is sitting next to you and you notice that the stitching is off or the handles are falling apart, if you don’t recognize the bag as a counterfeit, you’re likely to wonder why anyone would fork over a couple of months rent for such a low quality item.
But thus far, we’re probably only speaking to those people who wouldn’t buy counterfeits just on principal. We’re talking about the people who care about having the real thing, who would save for a year to have it, and who really cherish knowing that the finest materials and craftsmanship have gone into a garment or accessory.
We think that a more universal argument against counterfeits is one that speaks to consumer safety. As consumers, we are personally relieved that a decision has finally observed the risk of allowing counterfeits to be sold without much restraint. Some consumers buy counterfeits knowing they aren’t getting the real thing and justify this decision with an argument about price. Other consumers buy counterfeit goods thinking they are getting the real thing. Either way, what many buyers don’t realize is that these goods are not subject to the same rigorous inspections as the real thing, which can be dangerous. Counterfeit goods are not subjected to mandatory safety testing before being sold. So, who’s to say whether or not toxic materials and unsafe parts are used?
And last but certainly not least, there’s the fact that counterfeit goods are often made in illegal working conditions. We could go on and on about the long hours, the dingy conditions, the poor lighting, and the underage workers that are behind each counterfeit good, but we feel that there is no more harrowing image than that created by Dana Thomas in her book, “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.” Of the conditions in one particular sweatshop, she says, “I remember walking into an assembly plant in Thailand a couple of years ago and seeing six or seven little children, all under 10 years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags. The owners had broken the children's legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn't mend. [They] did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.” All the other arguments may fall on deaf ears as far as you’re concerned, but surely you can’t knowingly support that.
We had no part in drafting the arguments for this case, we contributed nothing to the research that went into it, and we weren’t asked to weigh-in when it came to writing the legal motions. Despite that, though, we still take some satisfaction in a decision that finally prioritizes a need to better police counterfeit goods and establishes that brand protection is the responsibility of more than just those directly behind the label.
Jennifer Williams is a recent law student grad, who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. For more from Jennifer, visit her blog, StartFashionPause, or follow her on Twitter.