• Tina Benitez-Eves

Industry Responds to Knock-Offs

Be OriginalNEW YORK – The impact of knock-offs on the industry was part of a lengthy panel discussion presented by Be Originals Americas, an organization that is working to educate and address the industry about concerns surrounding original design, plagiarism and intellectual property, during this summer's NY Now.

Knock Out Knock-Offs: Design Integrity in the Internet Age was moderated by New York writer and former Surface editor in chief, Dan Rubinstein and featured a panel including: Sandy Chilewich, founder and creative director, Chilewich; Paolo Cravedi, managing director, Alessi U.S.; Emily Danchuk, intellectual property lawyer; Bonnie Mackay, principal, BMackay Consulting; and Chad Phillips, director of retail at the Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum.

Revenue from knockoff goods is expected to exceed $1.7 trillion globally by 2015 (which represents two percent of the world’s total economic output), according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Financially, legal action can also cost a company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, specifically for smaller companies without the necessary revenue. "As a buyer and product nerd, you have to look hard before buying," said Phillips. "With technology today, it's so easy to get ripped off. If you're 22 and put $20,000 into something you can't keeping innovating."

The psychological and creative impact are also damaging to most. When an intellectual property has been threatened, the creative end of the business may tend to stop innovating or putting out new and unique product. "It's very isolating," said Chilewich. "It has a direct impact on designs and creativity, especially for those just starting out. The most important lesson is to not stop. It can zap creativity, but the only way to fight theft is to continue to be creative."

Cravedi added that continuing creativity is key when faced with a potential knock-off. "Copycats existed long before the Internet," he said, "but technology has brought this whole other element with noise. It also gives us the opportunity to educate and talk about what's happening."

A victim of IP theft, Emily Martin, founder and designer of Orange Beautiful, a Chicago-based stationery company told Gifts and Decorative Accessories that she’s seen her artwork used by various individuals at parties and elsewhere on the Internet, but she didn't realize the real impact knock-offs could have until she saw one of her designs on a television competition. A contestant on the TLC network series Four Weddings had allegedly featured one of Martin's original designs for Orange Beautiful on her wedding cake, invitations and even a carved cheese. The network later ran the episode, and the winning design was the one allegedly ripped off from Orange Beautiful. Martin has tracked down the individuals who were featured on the show and has started to take legal action with a cease and desist letter.

“It dilutes our design,” said Martin. “Then we have to somehow prove to the public that we’re the original designer.” Martin added that she has met with her fellow, independent artists, who usually have smaller, start-up business and are afraid to get meddled into a legal battle. “The only way it is going to go away is if you admonish the other peoples’ work,” said Martin, who said that when smaller companies send a cease and desist letter, the response is usually threatening, and if it’s a bigger company ripping off a smaller company, they will go after them.

Mackay added, "Knockoffs have become part of this disposable world. It gets bought and thrown out and it's really unfortunate. It's also impacted our environment."

The industry needs to really talk about this issue before it can be stopped, said Danchuk. "It's important for everyone in the industry to be involved. It's not okay for people who are known for copying to be at the show. It needs to start at the tradeshows. When you come into this industry you have a responsibility to know the real thing when you see it."

Tina BenitezTina Benitez-Eves | Business Editor, Gifts and Decorative Accessories

Tina covers the business of the gift/home decor and toy industry for Gifts and Decorative Accessories and Playthings. Also published in Men's Fitness, amNewYork, Wine Spectator and other publications.

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