I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day. My wife was away last week but returned just in time to celebrate. It’s time to get back to work after taking a couple of days to catch up.
Before we get into today’s article, I’d like to take a minute to ask for a favor. The annual Plutus Awards (Oscars/Emmys for personal finance) is coming up, and they are accepting nominations. That means it’s time to grow my Susan Lucci losing streak to a 14th year. If you are a baseball nerd, you can think of me as the Jamie Moyer a slightly better-than-average performer who contributed way longer than anyone ever imagined.
The favor that I ask is for a nomination for a Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve been a finalist twice but couldn’t break through to win it. It’s a difficult award, but the other awards are very specialized for certain types of blogs, such as real estate or military. There’s little room for a generalist in the award room – I think Lifetime Achievement is my best bet. You can submit nominations here.
And just to be a little greedy, my other site, Kid Wealth is a perfect fit for Best Financial Literacy Content for Children. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I won a Plutus Award for a relatively new and obscure website instead of the one I’ve been writing for over 17 years?
Enough of the appetizer – let’s get to the main course:
Should Superfake Handbags Be Illegal?
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this NY Times Article on superfake handbags. It should be free if you click on it.
Superfake handbags are counterfeit handbags that are done so well that most almost no one can tell it’s counterfeit. Even experts have trouble telling the difference sometimes.
I usually don’t read or write about fashion. I don’t get enjoyment from fashion. As Jack Johnson sings, “Look at all those fancy clothes – But these gonna keep us warm, just like those.” I usually focus my buying decisions on functionality.
For example, I’ll buy a laptop based on the underlying specifications, not the name on the cover. I give value to the brand if it’s known for its reliability. I don’t buy Apple products, but I recognize that people get very good value from the ecosystem (functionality) and reliability.
So when it comes to fashion, I have to say that I simply don’t get it. The closest I have come to understanding it is that it helps get you acceptance into some club of your peers. There’s a lot of it at my kids’ private school. Buying social acceptance seems weird. However, I guess it’s not too much different than one of the main reasons I went to college – to get a sheepskin from the school saying I was knowledgeable. (The diploma wasn’t even made out of sheepskin.)
When it comes to handbags and counterfeit handbags, it feels odd to me. Should a company be profiting from tokens of social acceptance? To me, it doesn’t feel like a handbag company should profit off of a social construct in my local area. It makes as much to me as buying a pet rock or getting caught up in another fad.
On another level, I understand that companies produce intellectual property and should be able to profit from that. Superfake handbags get a free ride by copying the design work that went into the handbag.
When I’m confused about something, I often try to think of an analogy to help me sort it out. Suppose I painted a Mona Lisa at home and sold it to someone. That would presumably be fine. It would undoubtedly look like a third-grader’s refrigerator art, but it would be legal, right? No one is going to come to arrest me. The buyer of my terrible fake Mona Lisa knows they aren’t getting the real thing.
Now let’s say I get really good at painting Mona Lisa’s. I paint them so well that they can’t be distinguished from the real thing. People like my knock-off Mona Lisas and decide to pay me a few hundred dollars for them. I’m not defrauding my customers – they know they aren’t getting the real Mona Lisa. This doesn’t seem to be illegal.
Maybe the difference is that there’s not a clear victim. I’d certainly be profiting off of Leonardo da Vinci work. His descendants may be upset (if they can be found). Maybe the Louvre in Paris would become bitter that fewer people want to visit it. That’s a stretch, too, as there are many other reasons to go to the Louvre.
Is the only difference that the handbag is from a corporation? Maybe Leonardo da Vinci’s works have fallen into the public domain so his descendants can’t claim the same intellectual property rights?
Another analogy is generic medication. It’s functionally the same as the branded medication. Yet, in most cases, generic versions of brand medications are entirely legal. There are no police at WalMart taking Equate brand of Acetaminophen because it is a replica of Tylenol.
It’s weird that fashion seems to be treated differently legally than other industries. Printer companies are famously trying to get the law to apply to counterfeit ink refill cartridges. One company added a microchip to the cartridge to tell the printer that it was an authentic cartridge. Of course, a refill company made a replacement chip to put in their cartridges , and that became a lawsuit.
Usually, I know where I’m going to end up when I write an article. Today, I have no answers. I guess you can go ahead and get all the knock-off Mona Lisas and printer cartridges you want, but not if it’s a handbag.
It seems silly to me too. Those fashion houses make so much money. The fake bags are there to fill a niche. The markup is too high. If the fashion houses are less greedy, the super fake bags wouldn’t be worth it to make.
My wife got a purse from Portland Leather for Mother’s Day. It was under $200 and she loves it. It should be based on functionality and aesthetics, not brands. IMO. I’m pretty immune to brand names these days.
Lazy Man says
I think the exclusivity is the point. I guess that’s why they want to crack down on the fake bags. It threatens the exclusivity of being able to afford the expensive thing.
Intellectual property, like drug recipes are protected by copyrights, patents, etc. Generic drugs are only legal because the patent has expired. The first 20 years the only company that can sell a drug is the company that invented it or a company that pays them royalties for the right to produce it. And it’s a very good thing that only one company can sell it or drug research would come to a screeching halt. There would be no reason to invent new drugs if everyone could copy them.
Lazy Man says
I did bring into the idea of intellectual property rights and things going into the public domain. It feels weird with handbags. I don’t see a company that owns a patent, copyright, etc. on a little black dress preventing everyone else from making one. There are some patents like red-soled high heels that are very protected. Again, I don’t understand fashion.
Are my knock-off Mona Lisas (in the example) only legal because it is in the public domain? I couldn’t create duplicates of newer art, perhaps?