Germany: Negative Award “Plagiarius“ sheds light on counterfeits

unsplash-logoAdli Wahid

44th’s traditional vituperation for counterfeits in Germany has awarded 2020’s “winners”.

Plagiarisms and counterfeits are neither a compliment nor harmless trivialities. They are ruthless, destroy jobs and mean stagnation instead of progress. Often produced cheaply and under inhuman working conditions, they sometimes cause damage to innovative manufacturers that threaten their very existence. The explosive spread of product and brand piracy is encouraged by globalisation, the Internet, digital communication – and by the specific demand of gullible (online) bargain hunters. Yet, fakes are usually only deceptively similar to the original at first glance and pose enormous safe- ty risks, especially for consumers. 

Plagiarius: Against brazen theft of ideas – for innovation and fair competition 

The negative prize “Plagiarius”, created by the designer Prof. Rido Busse, was awarded for the 44th time on February 07, 2020 at the Frankfurt consumer goods fair “Ambiente”. Since 1977, Aktion Plagiarius e.V. has been awarding the dreaded ‘anti-prize’ to manufacturers and distributors of par- ticularly bold plagiarisms and counterfeits. The award says nothing about whether a counterfeit product is legally permitted or illegal. The aim of Aktion Plagiarius is rather to raise public aware- ness of the unscrupulous business practices of product and brand pirates and to sensitise industry, politics and consumers to the problem. 

At the same time, the association conveys to entrepreneurs, SMEs and creative people the im- portance and effectiveness of industrial property rights – e.g. trademark, patent, design – and encour- ages them to protect their intellectual property and bring imitators to justice. In addition, Aktion Plagiarius wants to contribute to consumers’ appreciation of technical and creative achievements by showing them that the development of a product from the initial idea, design, construction, certification and prototyping to marketability costs a lot of time, money, know-how, courage and innovative power. This is also what the Plagiarius-Trophy stands for: a black dwarf with a golden nose – a symbol of the immense profits that unimaginative imitators literally make at the expense of creatives and industry. 

Before the annually changing jury selects the winners, the alleged plagiarisers are informed of their nomination and given the opportunity to comment. In addition to case-related information, these reactions, if any, are included in the evaluation. The jury does not want to denounce legally compet- ing products. The intention is rather to focus on crude 1:1 imitations that deliberately resemble the original product in a confusing way and that do not show any creative or constructive contribution of their own. Fortunately, numerous imitators have already sought an agreement with the original manufacturer out of fear of public disgrace and bad publicity and, for example, have taken remain- ing stocks of the plagiarism off the market, signed cease-and-desist declarations or revealed their suppliers. 

Appearances are deceptive: Hidden (health) risks often revealed in counterfeits 

The alarmingly huge success of counterfeits has many causes. First, the often very low price. No question, everyone is happy about a bargain. But cheap is not the same as reasonably priced. And the price-performance ratio of plagiarisms is often disastrous. The tricky thing is that at first glance plagiarisms make a good impression. But consumers should not be naive enough to believe that the same appearance automatically means the same quality, performance and, above all, safety. Many plagiarisms and counterfeits are verifiably made of cheap materials, poorly processed and have never undergone quality or security checks. De facto, this can be seen, among other things, in short life cy- cles, defective electronics and functionality or high levels of pollution. In short: health risks. For exam- ple, if the material of the supposedly harmlessly counterfeit backpack is contaminated with toxic, can- cer-causing pollutants, or if the counterfeit sunglasses do not provide UV protection against danger- ous sunrays. Fake rims, medicines, chainsaws, respirators, etc. are even life-threatening. 

Appreciation for producers of the originals, instead of financing unscrupulous counterfeiters 

In addition, consumers often apply double standards: With regard to the original, they legitimately demand fair manufacturing conditions, an environmentally friendly, sustainable production and guar- anteed quality and safety. With a supposed bargain in mind, unfortunately, all scruples promptly van- ish into thin air and social standards in the counterfeiters’ factories do not seem to matter anymore. The negative aspects are well known, but are ignored. 

Also, with amazing taken-for-grantedness, there is a constant demand for new and multifaceted prod- ucts of the highest quality and attractive design – available 24/7, delivered within 24 hours and, if pos- sible, for an almost free-of-charge rate. This gratis- and bargain mentality entails risks and plays into the hands of the counterfeiters: If you pay (almost) nothing for a product, you do not know its realistic value. Consequently, no appreciation or respect can result for the product creator and his accom- plishments for creating the original product. However, originals should not be taken for granted. 

Markets are regulated by supply and demand. It is therefore the responsibility of every consumer to consciously choose original products and to deprive the counterfeiters of their business model. 

Theft of intellectual property = design plagiarism, brand forgery, technology theft 

Imitators unashamedly copy products that have been successfully established on the market. The manifestations range from design plagiarisms to technology theft to brand forgeries. The counterfeit goods are offered for sale in all price and quality gradations: From cheap and dangerous counterfeits to high-quality plagiarisms that are hardly cheaper or even more expensive than the original product. The damage for the original producers is enormous: loss of sales, loss of jobs, unjustified damage to their image, lack of earnings for future product developments. 

A global problem with many profiteers along the value chain 

According to the EU Commission, in 2018 the European customs authorities confiscated more than 27 million infringing products with a value of over 740 million Euros at the EU’s external borders. China (incl. HongKong) is on the one hand the No. 1 country of origin for counterfeits. At the same time, many Chinese companies are developing from the extended workbench of the West into innovative competi- tors on the world markets who protect their products themselves. Furthermore, imitations are often also produced, distributed or even commissioned in industrialised countries. This is often done by competi- tors with poor ideas or former production or distribution partners. Western competitors very specifically check the existence of industrial property rights. If none are registered, aspirations and scruples are thrown overboard and external design and technology solutions are issued as one’s own achievement. 

Easy job for counterfeiters on the WWW – Fake shops are booming 

Demonstrably, well-known global eCommerce platforms do not only offer original goods but also large scale illicit plagiarisms and counterfeits. Mainly, the last-mentioned are being distributed from third- party suppliers who change their (fake) identities whenever required, and successfully veil themselves in the anonymity of the World Wide Web. A lucrative business without (liability) risks, where the plat- form operators incidentally also earn money. Parallel to this, more and more “fake shops” are emerg- ing. Dubious providers either take over expiring domains of well-known brands or register domain names in which brand names appear. The fake shops look deceptively similar to the websites of brand manufacturers. They often use original photos, -reviews etc. in order to mislead consumers. 

As long as it is possible for anyone in the world to register (de-) domains without identity verification or to log on to e-commerce portals with fake names and addresses, these loopholes will be exploited for unfair purposes. Especially when buying on the Internet, consumers should take a close look, listen to their common sense and not click on “Buy” hastily and without criticism: Is the price unrealistically low? Does the domain name sound strange? Is there an SSL certificate (https)? Is a supposed trust seal linked? In addition, it is useful to carefully check the imprint, payment conditions (attention with “prepayment only”), revocation possibilities and the general seriousness of the provider, in order that no one will become an easy victim of fraudsters. 

This year’s laudator, Christiane Nicolaus, Director of the Design Center Baden-Württemberg, em- phasized in her speech: “Design is a driver of innovation, a distinguishing feature and an economic success factor – across all industries. It is the interface between product and people. Design and engineering services require not only very complex specialist knowledge, but also a sense for mar- kets, trends and economic feasibility. Product development costs time, money and know-how. Inno- vative companies are entitled to the reward for their work. Getting inspired is one thing – clumsy imi- tation for one’s own profit, at the expense of others, is disrespectful and unfair”. 

Source: Aktion Plagiarius e.V.