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Archive for December, 2011

What’s the harm in a cheap knockoff? The folks at the Counterfeiting Museum (16 rue de la Faisanderie, metro Porte Dauphine) will be more than happy to tell you. With a vested interest in intellectual property rights, the Union des fabricants, a manufacturers union, founded the museum in 1951. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 2-5:30pm. It’s 4 euros to enter, 3 for groups. You are guaranteed to learn something new about the dark, scary underworld of illegal copycats.

Something like an imitation Barbie doll may be relatively harmless on an individual level (we can’t forget the larger economic ramifications), but the prospect of counterfeit cigarettes and Tabasco sauce is more worrisome. Products like these are not subject to the sanitary health regulations that keep real thing “safe” for consumers. While the original is hardly a healthy purchase in the case of a pack of Marlboro Reds, some standards are clearly better than none. I overheard a tour guide inform a class of high school students (many of them accessorizing with cheaply made  shoulder bags marked “Louis Vuitton” and slightly off “Ray-Ban” sunglasses) that a large percentage of medications purchased online are counterfeit, which poses obvious potential risks to consumer safety.

And when it comes to electronic devices, buying a cheaper, counterfeit version may well mean that you end up paying more in the long run. While looking nearly identical to the name brand product, these electronics really are made cheaply, with no legal mechanisms in place to ensure quality. If it breaks after a few days, there is no one against whom to lodge a complain, and you will most certainly not get your money back.

Another point to consider is the penalty for purchasing counterfeit items. Trying to bring them across international borders can result in fees of over 1000 euros.

It is neat to compare the real and the fake side-by-side. It would be even cooler if they weren’t behind that pesky protective glass so that one might feel the difference in the materials used.

Often counterfeit fashion items are cheap replicas of existing products, such as the Dior bags and makeup pictured above, but it is also common for counterfeiters to invent new articles that have no counterpart in the brand’s inventory. Lacoste, for example, does not make anything that resembles the beauty products I saw for sale on the streets of Dakar bearing the famous crocodile logo.

Respect for intellectual property is important, and safety issues are of even greater concern. You may want to think twice about that too-good-to-be-true price for something that looks just like a much more expensive original.

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