Everyone loves a bargain. There is something very satisfying about saying “I got it for only (fill in the cheap price)” when someone compliments you on your sassy new shoes or bag. And with the trade in counterfeit goods valued at US$917 billion a year, it is understandable that ordinary law-abiding consumers feel that resisting purchasing a ‘Chanel’ bag from a chap on a foreign beach won’t make any difference to the extent of the problem. Like global warming, the issue is too big and the damage too hidden to coerce people into changing their behaviour.
But the fact is that like climate change, it is the small actions and changes in attitude by ordinary people that lead to changes on a geopolitical scale. And everyone needs to be aware of the damage caused by counterfeit goods, not just to big corporations, whose problems, let’s face it, are not going to tug at any heartstrings, but to workers with families in the West, struggling economies in the developing world, and to you, dear reader.
“The Unreal Campaign is a consumer awareness program of the International Trademark Association (INTA), which aims to educate high school students (14- to 18-years-old) about the dangers of counterfeiting and the importance of trademarks. The Unreal Campaign is a multiyear initiative that will outreach to teens through online activities and direct school engagement.“
The age-group most concerned and influenced by brands is adolescence (as acknowledged by countless worn-down, cash-strapped parents across the world). Highly susceptible to peer-pressure and social media, teenagers turn to brands to not only fit in but discover who they are. Regardless of whether obsession with brands among adolescence is right or wrong, young people need to be educated about the consequences of counterfeit goods, for their sake and for the good of the economy overall.
The dangers of counterfeit goods
Counterfeiting costs the US economy around $225 billion a year; enough to put 1,875,000 students through private college. But when we break down how counterfeiting affects smaller economies, people, and consumers themselves, this cost, which looks unfathomable, becomes personal.
Purchasing counterfeit goods means legitimate businesses are competing with organisations who steal their IP and don’t pay taxes. Hardly a fair fight. The loss of sales tax revenue means inevitable cuts in healthcare, roads, education, and law enforcement. In addition, countries awash with counterfeit goods find it hard to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). Enforcing IP rights adds to investor confidence, especially in sectors such as technology, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing. According to a paper by the World Bank, when it comes to investing in developing countries, political stability, security, and regulatory environment are leading factors in driving decisions. Counterfeit operations destroy the factors necessary to attract FDI, limiting GDP growth and the opportunity to lift people out of poverty.
Cheap, counterfeit goods costs the jobs of ordinary people. According to research analysts, approximately 2.5 million jobs worldwide have been dismantled by counterfeit black markets. Of those, 2.5 million jobs lost, 750,000 jobs were in the United States. A further 800,000 jobs are lost each year in Europe.
Some of these employees go on to subsequent employment. But many, especially those who are older or suffer disabilities, do not. Their hardship is the true cost of a fake pair of Adidas shoes or a Rolex watch.
Consumer health and safety
Engaging in the production and distribution of counterfeit goods is fraud is a crime. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that those producing counterfeits are not overly concerned with the health and safety of their customers.
Counterfeit goods are not subject to regulatory controls and this can lead to serious consequences. For example, a large number of alcohol poisoning deaths in Russia are believed to be caused by the consumption of counterfeit drinks containing hazardous materials. In America, fake medicines pose enormous risks to the public.
From harmful substances used in materials, to the risk of fires and electric shocks, those who buy fake goods are too often dicing with death. This is something teenagers have a right to be aware of so they can make good decisions.
Counterfeit products are everywhere. Despite a crackdown by Amazon on mis-selling, a 2018 Guardian investigation found that Amazon’s Marketplace platform was rife with potentially dangerous counterfeits and other knockoff goods. The Unreal Campaign is helping teenagers understand the effect purchasing counterfeit goods has on the entire community and their own health. And given that iGens are the most wellbeing focused, sustainable-living conscious generation yet, it is likely this campaign will be carefully considered by its targeted audience.
Let’s hope that their parents also get the message.
 Levin, E. K. (2009). A safe harbor for trademark: Reevaluating secondary trademark liability after Tiffany v. eBay. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 24(1), 491-527