Unsurprisingly, customs have made many seizures of imitations of Lego, the world’s leading toy brand. Back in June 2018, Eurobsit reported that Frankfurt customs officials had seized 50,000 fake Lego pieces worth €25,200. Hungarian customs officials made an even more spectacular seizure last January, when they intercepted 4 tonnes of counterfeit Lego toys at Budapest airport. These were being shipped from China to a residential address in Ukraine.
The Internet, or the art of misleading people
There are various ways of putting bogus building bricks up for sale online. The crudest is to mislead people. Numerous ‘clone’ online websites keep popping up with similar names to the Danish leader, featuring the same graphics as the real online shop.
‘Lego England’ was one of various clone sites that the British tech site Gizmodo has brought to light. The bogus site offered temptingly priced Lego sets, two or three times cheaper than the originals, or even collector items no longer available on the market.
Online sales platforms are often called out for posting counterfeits, and they have not been spared by this issue. A range of Lego-branded products can easily be found on Alibaba and eBay that do not feature in the Danish brand’s catalogue, or which are marked ‘compatible with Lego’. All have a much lower price tag than the genuine items.
The scale of the online counterfeiting recently prompted Lego to issue a press release. “We are aware of websites that can mislead consumers in many ways, and we take these incidents very seriously. Although we cannot discuss ongoing cases, if consumers are misled, or if intellectual property rights violations are reported to us or are noticed by our teams, we take every necessary step to protect them, and our brand”, he explained. Moreover, “We are aware that it can be hard to spot a fraudulent website, but any consumer having doubts can be sure that the official Lego shop at www.shop.LEGO.com is authentic.”
China (still) at the forefront of counterfeiting
One of Lego’s biggest ongoing issues has been with the Chinese brand Lepin. It has been selling copies of the Danish company’s products, violating the intellectual property rights of Lego and its toy commercial franchises. This troublesome, illegitimate competitor even adopted an almost identical brand logo to Lego.
A lengthy court case between Lego and Lepin came to an end last year. In June 2018, the Chinese courts ruled that Lepin’s parent company, MZ Model, had to pay 2 million euros to Lego for damages incurred. This decision cannot be appealed.
Moreover this April 2019, Chinese police raided Lepin’s Shenzhen factory, seizing 30 million dollars-worth of counterfeit Lego products. The company has since announced that it will cease production of its block sets from May.
But in the flood of online counterfeit Lego products, the stakes go beyond economics where certain toy companies are concerned. Imitations may be misappropriated and take on surprising ideological turns. In November 2018, Fox News heavy-handedly promoted a new brand of building block toys: MAGA. The promotion offered a 30-dollar kit featuring Donald Trump and the wall he had promised to build on the border with Mexico. The Chinese online sales platform Ali Express, meanwhile, found itself in trouble last February when it was discovered to have been selling Lego Nazis on its platform.
Fox has been promoting a $30 Lego rip-off kit that is literally 101 small grey bricks with a racist box design. pic.twitter.com/sTS5GhOEvM
— NATALIE MARTINEZ (@natijomartinez) November 14, 2018
Photo credit: Marco Verch