Tag Archives: Counterfeiting & Piracy

Best of 2009: They always get their man

Posted November 24, 2009.

Dudley and SnidelyYes, people do have some funny ideas of what kinds of things to protect with copyright, don’t they?   A few years ago, criminal enterprise Milberg Weiss (in its pre-conviction days) tried to assert copyright in its own specie — the legal papers it filed to generate kazillions in crooked class-action fees — and not so unreasonably (hmm…).

Anyway, it seems that certain countries, though not as wealthy as Milberg Weiss, nor nearly as scurrilous (indeed, arguably cordial to a fault!), have figured, if an American law firm can try to claim copyright in its own money, why can’t we?   Why not indeed?

And so we read of a vacation. “To experience the full excitement of traveling abroad,” writes Eric E. Johnson,



you’ve got to have a pocket full of unfamiliar money. Never mind that their pennies, dimes, nickels, and quarters look almost identical to U.S. coins. And put aside the fact that the exchange rate right now between the U.S. and Canada is almost exactly one-to-one. I was still excited to use different cash.

Inspecting the colorful bills, I got a delightful surprise: a copyright notice!

Read More…

China fakes reform

On the eve of the Beijing Olympics — which is nothing if not a branding, merchandising and licensing bonanza to which athletes are invited — a nervous Chinese government official writes in the Wall Street Journal that that the era of Chinese counterfeiting is about to end, actually, and here’s why:

How will we do this? In the following four ways:

  • First, we will make timely revisions to IPR legislation, including the laws on patent, trademark and copyright, as well as regulations on their implementation. We will also bring forward legislation in the areas of hereditary resources, traditional lore, folk arts and geographical marks so as to improve the overall framework for IPR law enforcement and management.
  • Second, we will speed up the revision of laws and regulations on punishment of IPR infringements, and strengthen the systems of judicial protection and administrative law enforcement. We will mainly rely on judicial protection for protecting intellectual property rights. We will mete out more severe penalties, reduce the cost of IPR protection, and deter violation by raising its cost.
  • Third, we will properly define the scope of intellectual property rights to prevent their abuse, ensure a level playing field, and protect the lawful rights and interests of the public. We will ensure a better mesh of our IPR policy with those of culture, education, scientific research and public health to uphold people’s rights to properly use the information and fruits of innovation in ways permitted by law in their activities in culture, education, scientific research and health, and make sure that innovation achievements are shared more equitably.
  • And finally, we will launch extensive educational programs among the public to further encourage innovation, promote such moral standards as honesty and credibility, and condemn plagiarism, piracy and counterfeiting. We will raise people’s IPR awareness and foster an innovation-friendly IPR culture in which knowledge and integrity are respected, and laws and regulations are complied with.

Still with us? A lot of chin music, really. An hour later and we again feel hungry. Why?

One would think that a totalitarian regime would have no trouble implementing policies such as these. They are just rules, after all. The problem is that China has opened to free enterprise, but it has not opened to the rule of law.

Free enterprise plus political repression — reliance on coercion throughout legal, administrative and social institutions — will not, in the long run, work in a large economy.  And in the short run, at least, the result is endemic corruption. Read More…

Starting ’em out young

Counterfeit Chic looks at tomorrow’s counterfeiters. Well, that’s how Susan looks at them, anyway. When you’re a carpenter everything looks like a nail, you know?

Bringing big IP plaintiffs down a peg — or two

Mike Atkins is paying attention to Microsoft’s IP docket, as a Seattle Trademark Lawyer will do. He’s reporting about a default judgment and award the software maker achieved in California, with a rather surprising anticlimax in the dollars-and-cents category:

Microsoft sought more than $3 million in statutory damages. However, the court only awarded $12,500 in damages and $2,000 in fees and costs. The court explained its decision by stating: “Plaintiff asks for the maximum enhanced statutory damages for the infringement of each of seven copyrights and two trademarks. At $150,000 per copyright and $1,000,000 per counterfeit trademark, the tab comes to $2,050,000. Plaintiff has identified a grand total of three units of counterfeit software that defendant sold. It is true that Microsoft could not conduct discovery to determine its damages, but that in itself does not support levying a statutory damages award in excess of three million dollars. … Statutory damages are intended to serve as a deterrent, but that does not justify such a windfall.

Well. True enough, when we got the judgment for seven (theoretical) figures in Louis Vuitton v. Veit, which was a counterfeiting case (and thus also implicated statutory damages), we could point to a major online counterfeiting operation, from which the court could deduce not only massive sales but the sort of massive wrongdoing that those huge swinging statutory damage options are meant to punish. Even then the court wanted as much proof as we could get our hands on of what was going on there.

But only $2,000 in fees and costs? That doesn’t sound right. The attorneys’ fees provisions of the Copyright Act are supposed to make a successful plaintiff at least whole in terms of the cost of enforcement — regardless of the number of units sold. Two thousand dollars doesn’t even cover scribes and sealing wax.

Sounds like something else was going on here. Any suggestions?

… and Europe Strikes Back: Google Loss Upheld by French Court

A friend painfully close to the case forwarded this link reporting that Google has lost its appeal of a judgment for “trademark counterfeiting” against the French travel companies Luteciel and Viaticum:


A French appeals court upheld a ruling against Google’s advertising policy in a decision published Wednesday, ordering the Internet search engine to pay 75,000 euros in damages to two companies whose trademarks it infringed.

The court found that Google was guilty [sic] of “trademark counterfeiting” and ordered it to pay the damages originally awarded to French travel companies Luteciel and Viaticum, as well as costs.

(Why “sic“? Because in civil cases, there is no such thing as “guilt” — only findings of liability or non-liability. Even in Europe. Even in France. I felt you should know that.)

Here are some key points in the decision, translated rather clumsily on the site linked to above:

  • “[I]t is necessary to point out that its liability is only sought with regards to the second capacity and this capacity alone” In other words, this is solely an issue of secondary, i.e., contributory, trademark infringement.
  • “Considering that no circumstances of force majeure existed that may exempt it from liability, where and insofar as it is proved that two other service providers in the field of paid positioning, the companies OVERTURE and ESPOTTING were faced with the same problem and managed to resolve it promptly and that GOOGLE FRANCE also managed to do so, although with some delay” This again goes to the killer point that middleman-type providers have here: The claim that “we can’t police the whole world” is (a) not credible when others do and when (b) you manage to do it when you really, really, really have to and (c) you’re making a mint.
  • “Considering that . . . GOOGLE FRANCE, even if it had legitimately not been aware that the companies were the holders of the contentious marks, could not offer the purchase of the words ‘bourse aux voyages’ or ‘bourse de voyages’ or even ‘bdv com’ in its keyword suggestion tool, on the pretext that they were high among the most often requested key words, without carrying out a serious study of the potential rights of third parties over these words ” It’s not only a matter of what the U.S. courts call “willfull blindness” (which can result in a third party such as an auction site or a flea market being held contributorily liable for infringement) — there’s evidently an affirmative duty on the part of providers of services such as Google to inquire, at least under certain facts, if there are trademark issues.

No, this is not the applicable law in the U.S., but it matters for a few reasons. One is that the factual findings here will undoubtedly influence Google’s posture in future U.S. litigation. Another is that Google will have to make changes in the way it does business — which it already has begun to do, anyway — and this will affect both its overall service platform and its ability to say what it can, can’t, will and won’t do in the U.S. And the other is that, as is well known, there’s really no such thing as U.S. law, anyway. (And in a Googled-up, wired-up, hyperlinked world, isn’t that really what we all want?)

Okay, that might be bit much. But then, evidently, was Google’s share price in early February. Buying opportunity tomorrow, gang! I’m riding the stock all the way — when you got a position like I do (ten shares), you don’t want to go and panic the market…

UPDATE:  From Reuters “news” service, March 2010:

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Tuesday advertisers were free to buy keywords identical to trademarks of rivals as long as consumers were not confused on the provenance of goods and services by the way ads were displayed online.

The court said that in cases where ads could confuse consumers, brand owners should invoke their rights against the advertisers concerned, not against Google — unless Google failed to act on a complaint or actively manipulated keywords.

Jihadi Faux?

Counterfeit Chic reports that the world really does revolve around intellectual property!

Last week in Maryland, a traffic stop yielded a cache of counterfeit Nike sneakers, LV and Coach handbags, additional illegal merchandise — and a CD titled “Jihad Freedom for the Slaves.”

OK, well. As Susan says, “Not dispositive, but at least suspicious.”

Cardiac counterfeiting

It’s not a defense to trademark infringement or counterfeiting that your heart is full of good intentions.


PirateMarketplace from PBS recounts a confused phone interview with a bona fide trademark pirate. Aargh.

(Three-cornered — or is it a coolie? — hat tip to Bill Heinze.)

RIAA: Pillar of the Plaintiff’s Bar

Reuters “news service” “reports”:

A record industry trade group on Thursday said it filed lawsuits against 751 people it claims used online file-sharing networks to illegally trade in copyrighted songs.

Among those targeted in the suits are students at Drexel University, Harvard University, and the University of Southern California, the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) said in a statement.

You have to give them credit for sticking with their strategery, no matter how inneffectual. It’s outside counsel’s dream come true…

Defining counterfeiting downward

Some fakes are worse than others

Some fakes are worse than others

Counterfeit Chic happens upon a new defense to trademark counterfeiting:  “Counterfeiting?  You call this counterfeiting?!”

We’ve all seen imitation goods so poorly rendered that they wouldnt fool a myopic Martian on a dark night.  And there must be a market out there beyond mere video fiction, or LV look-alikes wouldnt keep showing up on shady street corners and in dark corners of the internet, next to the “Prado” and “Channel” bags.  But why would any self-respecting counterfeiter turn out such bad fakes?

It turns out there’s method to the madness.  In theory, these inept imitations could allow a manufacturer/importer/seller to avoid liability under the rationale that there’s no likelihood of consumer confusion.  In practice, however, courts dont like apparent bad actors.

Or have all that much interest in things like likelihood of consumer confusion, actually.  In practice.

On the other hand, as much as I rail against that judicial trend around here, when it comes to trademark counterfeiting I don’t have a big problem with it; it’s nearly a per se, strict liability tort, and that’s what it is.  I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a world where sloppy work is anything other than its own reward, after all.

From Russia, without royalties


"For Distinguished Services for the Motherland"

The Kalashnikov rifle: Naked trademark licensing (“I take them into my hands and, my goodness, the marks are foreign,” [General Kalashnikov] said of the knockoffs the Soviet Union once championed. “Yes, they look alike.  But as to reliability and durability — they do not meet the high standards of our military” at its bloodiest).

UPDATE: Much more, and done better, here. Also a good piece about the man and the weapon here and here*.

NEW AND IMPROVED KILLING POWER:  The AK-47 (i.e., the Avtomat Kalashnikov 47 — does that mean you could buy one here?) as “Most Important Weapon Ever” (via Instapundit).

*”A unique design feature of the AK-74 . . . is an air-space (about 5mm long) inside the jacket at the bullet’s tip. . . [T]he air-space does serve to shift the bullet’s centre of mass toward the rear, possibly contributing to its very early yaw. This shift of lead occurs asymmetrically and may be one reason for the peculiar curvature of this bullet’s path in the last half of its path through tissue. Only in a shot with a long tissue path, like an oblique shot through the torso, would this curved path be evident; it doesn’t really add anything to wounding capacity, but might cause an occasional confusing path through tissue.”

Home cookin’ a la mode, with a most undeserving dessert

From the WSJ Law Blog:

A French court today cracked down on counterfeits — and an outlet that sells them — ordering eBay to pay Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands — Kenzo, Guerlain, Dior and Givenchy — $63.1 million in damages for auctioning fake goods. Here’s the early story from WSJ. . . .

“I was really surprised by the number,” J. Michael Huget, the head of IP at Butzel Long, told the Law Blog. “There’s definitely a hometown flavor to it. I don’t know how you get there on a disgorgement of profit basis, unless there’s some unique penalty provision that exists under French law. But even with that, it’s not like it’s a company that’s gone over there and hurt people. You don’t want to discount the value of a brand, but that’d be a huge number even in our system.”

Well, unless there’s some, like, Frenchie legal reason for it, yeah? I’d run that down. Genuine expertise demonstrated by Butzel Long, and crack reporting there by the WSJ! I blame the reporter more than I do Michael Huget. Wouldn’t want to have to dial another number and risk finding out that law part.

On the other hand… “it’s not like it’s a company that’s gone over there and hurt people”? Oh, is that the test, then, given what we… know? … about French law? Remember, Michael, what our teeny dollars look like to Europeans!

Oh, all right. It does sound like a huge number. Yet on the other hand — hometown-wise, frankly I couldn’t blame the French (yes, I did just write that) for getting the impression that there’s only one way to get eBay’s attention?

Having said all that — this is actually really troubling:

As for perfumer-plaintiffs Kenzo, Guerlain, Dior and Givenchy, the judge ruled that, even though the perfumes sold by eBay were legitimate, the company was liable for unauthorized sales. LVMH strictly limits their distribution to authorized dealers such as perfume chains and department stores.

Oh no. No!!!!!!  Now what do I do?!

(Jaunty beret-tip to Marty.)