The campaign to crack down on counterfeiting must continueFighting fakes
LIKE Lady Gaga on her recent concert tour, when Western visitors come to this part of the world, one of the items on their shopping list is a fake Rolex or a fake Fendi. As much as we may hate to admit it, foreign-made imitations of designer labels are as much a tourist attraction as locally-produced originals like pewter ware or the handwoven songket. The main reason, of course, is price. With a price-tag that is a 10th or 20th of the originals, forgeries are definitely, and literally, a steal. And as much as we may be loth to admit it, though selling counterfeit goods is undoubtedly a criminal and illegal activity, the traders manning the stalls and carts, like those in Petaling Street, are "honest" -- at least in the sense that they do not hide the fact that the bargain-price products they hawk openly are copies.
They are certainly more upfront than some retailers in shopping centres who pull a fast one by passing off fakes as discounted originals. Arguably, when travellers discover they have been ripped off in this way, the country's image is tarnished more than our standing as one of the havens for pirated goods in the region. To be sure, it is harder to tell the difference as it is no longer the case that counterfeit copies are a pale imitation of the genuine article. The finest replicas are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Nevertheless, when tourists and locals alike buy branded items in upscale malls they have every right to expect that these are authentic. For this reason, the plan by the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry for fake-free malls modelled on the Indonesian initiative is the right move.
At the same time, as experience has demonstrated the deterrent and punitive value of rigorous enforcement of the law, there is a need to step up raids on traders in malls and on the streets and sidewalks, confiscate their goods and charge them in court. In addition, as Thailand has done in targeting youths in its campaign to raise awareness on intellectual property rights, there is a need to change the behaviour and attitude of the tech-savvy Net Generation towards piracy. All the more so as e-commerce is set to become the major medium for the sale of bootleg merchandise. What is clear is that while much has been done to crack down on counterfeiting, as recognised in the country's removal from the United States Trade Representative Watch List, much more needs to be done.