Inside the Pirates’ Web
Reuters trade correspondent in Washington Doug Palmer had an unusual assignment: buy a fake Louis Vuitton handbag on the Internet, and take it to a LVMH store for a comparison test, before handing it over to U.S. authorities.
What was startling was how easy it was to find websites selling a dazzling array of stuff online. This is the new face of
piracy and its costing businesses billions. No need to skulk around back alleys or some pirate’s rental van to browse through footwear, watches, DVDs and whatnot. Just pick out your LV shoulder tote from a virtual catalog on a website based in China. It looks and feels like the real thing at a fraction of the price.
Counterfeit goods ranging from shoes to software seized by the U.S. government on display at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in northern Virginia, October 7, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed
The bulk of these goods comes from China. The workshop of the world is also the sweatshop oif the world when it comes to making fake goods.
Reuters Shanghai correspondent Melanie Lee and a photographer accompanied a private investigator to grubby neighbourhoods around Guangzhou to find the leather workshops that make these
fake bags. She saw mothers and daughters through the windows working the leather, and young toughs outside serving as lookouts. Chinese authorities occasionally do raid these places, which are often run by triad gangs. Photographer Tyrone Siu stealthily took photos with his iPhone.
Melanie and her PI then followed the trail of the fake handbags to an illegal market a few miles away. The Baiyun
wholesale market, occupying a space equivalent to five football fields, is the biggest market for leather goods in the world. Much of the merchandise is counterfeit.
The market is occasionally raided — including the day they went. But the shopkeepers are used to it. It’s like the Whack a Mole game. As fast as you can hammer down one operation, another one pops up somewhere else.
A workshop where fake foreign brand handbags are made in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Counterfeit commerce over the Internet has soared the past couple of years, turning what had been an irritant to businesses into a serious threat. The Federal Government has recently beefed up its enforcement
agencies to deal with the problem and Congress is preparing legislation that will empower them to go after the Internet outlaws.
P.S. – We took our fake Louis Vuitton shoulder tote down to the new National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and handed it over to Federal agents, standing in front of a display case of counterfeit shampoo, condoms, medicine and other products seized over the years.
They good-naturedly accepted it. They said it was much better quality than the ones they had brought in to show us.
A fake Louis Vuitton bag purchased and shipped from a China based website is pictured in front of a Louis Vuitton Store in Chevy Chase, Maryland, October 5, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang