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Brands and fake brands - when shopping becomes theft
on 6 June 2010
In The Fake Factor, McCartney writes perceptively, informatively and amusingly about the complex issues that surround the alarmingly commonplace practice of brand fakery. She guides us down the slippery slope from imitation (the high street fashion industry routinely and overtly reproduce the latest in designer fashion ideas at a price that mere mortals can afford), past apparent designer goods sold openly by tax-paying establishments around the world (who attempt to persuade the bargain-hunting tourist that they are a `factory outlet') and all the way down to the criminal underworld where vast amounts of counterfeited goods are traded, the proceeds from which fund various deeply unpleasant criminal and terrorist activities. In these murkiest of waters are to be found not only the apparently harmless designer label rip-off but also genuinely evil counterfeits such as fake medicines and fake baby milk.
It's a moral issue, says McCartney, and all of these activities are on the same continuum. Even those of us who may sport fake designer goods without the intention of deceiving even the casual passer-by - how ironic! How post-modern! - are guilty of aiding and abetting the theft of intellectual property. The person who creates something new by using their imagination and their skills deserves to reap the rewards of their creativity and not have their ideas stolen from them. This works, the book reminds us, as much for the written word and the recorded song as it does for innovative electronic goods and, yes, even for handbags.
Along the way McCartney explores intelligently what it is that creates a successful brand and makes it, in some cases, so desirable that we will knowingly buy a mere imitation: fake products that have the outward appearance of the brand, but none of the intrinsic qualities that make the brand so desirable. She also examines how a dislocation between the original brand and new products carrying the brand label (Harley Davidson sun glasses?) can open the door to the counterfeiter.
I once bought a fake Tag Heuer watch on New York's Canal Street. It may not even have had the words `Tag Heuer' anywhere on it and, in any case, I am so clearly not the sort of chap who would spend large amounts of money on a trophy watch that my purchase was, as mentioned earlier, ironic and indeed post-modern. How witty was I? The watch fell apart after a year or so - which meant that it had offered good value for the few dollars that it cost. McCartney's book has made me examine this purchase - and millions of other similar purchases made by people around the world every day - with fresh eyes, and a growing sense of unease.