Does Counterfeiting Benefit Society?

Friday, August 1, 2008| by Will Chen

I firmly believe we are in a golden age of quality and affordable guitars which are a direct result of off shoring manufacturing to China and South East Asia. However, there is a grotesque underbelly to this otherwise beautiful beast. The internet continues to shrink the world and it is now easier than ever to purchase gear internationally. Several businesses, and I use this term in the loosest sense, have began selling counterfeit products online from countries in which copyright’s do not apply and/or are not enforced. One only needs to visit eBay to see some examples of this fraudulent behavior.

While I find the activity of counterfeiting repugnant, there is a twist to our scenario which I’m having some trouble personally understanding. The counterfeiters are clearly telling the consumer that they are purchasing a fake. I can hear you asking, why is this any different? The difference is there is no deceit occurring in the initial financial transaction. The seller, while arguably despicable, clearly labels the guitar as a fake and the consumer is knowingly buying a fake. So who’s getting hurt in this scenario, the company whose products are counterfeited, right? Maybe not…

Matt Mason, author of the book The Pirate’s Dilemma, makes a fairly effective case that pirating is an effective leveler in the unbalanced field of the capitalist market. Basically, allowing a limited amount of pirated product to remain on the market builds brand awareness by creating a buzz and validates that the pirated brand has an intrinsic value.

Let’s assume the consumer in our above scenario chooses to be deceitful and pass his instrument off as the real thing. He posts pictures of it on bulletin boards, shows it off to all his friends, even plays it at a handful of gigs during the month. If we are assuming the consumer wouldn’t buy the actual product due to the high price tag, look at how much free advertising and potential brand awareness the company has received from this fraudulent instrument.

Of course, there’s the issue of the buyer continuing the deceit and trying to pass his fake as the real deal in a second sale. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s the people who buy the counterfeit merchandise rather than the one’s who are selling it which are the problem. Without demand, there would be no market for these thieves. With so many quality affordable guitars on the market today, what’s the point in buying a fake anyway? I’m far more intrigued when I see a brand I’ve never heard of than when I see another Fender or Gibson.

Then again, I’ve never been a brand loyalist and don’t care much what others think of what guitar I play. Sure, I’m always on the lookout for a great deal. But I’m not interested in buying a fake guitar as a status symbol. And I really don’t care if someone snickers when I whip out a $100 guitar at a gig, the snickering always stops once I start playing…

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