November 6, 2011

To Buy or not to Buy Fake Chinese Stuff?

So I'm practically parked at the intersection the other day, with only one or two cars moving through the robot each phase. Since I’ve got time, I’m idly glancing at the street vendors and their wares. One of them is toting rugby shirts. Aha, I think, Sunshine has been pestering me about one of those for “proudly South African Fridays” at school (just when you thought you’d finally bought all the school uniforms, they come along with that and you’re out shopping again!).

Without anything better to do I roll down my window and ask how much they are, not even thinking he’ll have one her size. But lo and behold, he whips out a children’s size 10 and wants R180, which I negotiate down to R150, and we have a deal. He doesn’t even pretend to have no change, so business must be hopping. He’s toting a big bag full of these shirts.

Happy with my find at such a decent price (original South African rugby shirts are R500 or something outrageous at Sportsman’s Warehouse, and even the cheaper knock-off ones are still R300 or so) I get home and discover that this shirt is not of the cheap knock-off type quality one usually gets from street vendors. It’s either a very very good Chinese fake with all the embroidered logos and tags, even down to the price tag with the suggested retail price of R599, or, as it slowly begins to dawn on me, it actually is an original, but of course a stolen one, or otherwise that price would not be possible.

The culprit of my tradings in questionable merchandise

I have since seen these same shirts on every street corner, so I tend to think they can't all be stolen on such a large scale and rather are very good knock-offs. But is there much of a difference? Isn't the fake shirt a type of theft as well? A theft of trademark, to be sure, even if the price for the real trademark is terribly overpriced.

But even if it was stolen, like when they guy passes you with a large tray of identical-looking soap. Who in the world would think people buy soap, of all things, at the traffic light? Unless you just happen to have had easy access to a warehouse aisle of soap, of course. But if this is so, is the guy selling it on the street corner the actual thief? Or did he just buy it cheap from someone else and is now making a living off of reselling it, probably feeding an entire family of eight with the proceeds? So if you’re now buying these things, are you encouraging theft, in the same way I’ve been chastising the people who consume shark fin soup? That would be wrong. Or am I helping someone on the street who’d otherwise have no job at all? But if I'm honest, you could make that argument about the guy who trades in shark fins as well. Surely he also has a family to feed. It's just that I feel very sure about the one, having no appetite for shark fin soup myself, and more or less unsure about the other, where I have a personal interest (getting a good deal on a shirt).

Arguing with myself in this fashion, I think buying these things is probably wrong. It's just slightly difficult to make a quick call between two changing lights.

6 comments :

martina-in-jozi.com said...

This is a great post Sine. As you know, I had the same conflicted feelings when we bought Rob's shirt at the side of the road.

Yes, some of this stuff is most definitely stolen originals, and as you rightly point out, the copies are trademark theft. Maybe he bought them in a bulk much cheaper after the world cup defeat (sorry Saffers!) and before they bring out the new seasons shirt.

Some of these guys have just picked up some stuff cheap to make a living though, and I don't think that I feel comfortable tarring everyone with the same brush and stopping all purchases by the side of the road. It's not fair on the honest guys.

I think ultimately you have to go with your heart at that moment in time - and as you say, when you only have 30 seconds it's hard to think it all through thoroughly

martina-in-jozi.com said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sine said...

Yes, I must say I was inspired by your post on the topic! In fact, I only really had those deep thoughts because you had raised them, otherwise my thoughts are often very shallow when it comes to these things:-)

Anonymous said...

Well, it may comfort you to know that the shirt is definitely a replica (sounds nicer than fake), because the ABSA logo in conjunction with the World Cup logo gives it away. The normal Springbok shirts can have a sponsor's logo (Sasol or ABSA) together with the manufacturer's name Canterbury spelt out under the three stylised emus (but no World Cup logo), while the World Cup shirts were not permitted to have a sponsor's logo or manufacturer's name (but his logo was ok, go figure that one for logic). I for one had no qualms about avoiding a rip off by going for the replica. Since both originals and replicas are Chinese made, I suspect that the shirt manufacturer simply ran a few hundred thousand extras while the production line was going, but not without including the deliberate mistake, which strictly speaking does not make it an exact copy. Life is full of such minor infringements, and it hasn't cost me a minute's sleep. But then I'm already indigenised.

Sine said...

thank you so much for clearing that up! While I don't even begin to understand the subtleties of those logo rules, I do feel a lot better about my purchase. I will follow you in no longer losing sleep about the morals of it.

Martina, btw I only deleted your duplicate post, but now it looks like I removed it due to some inappropriateness of what you said. So, for the record - it was just the same thing twice!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I wouldn't recommend knowingly breaking the law but I also would not fret about black market stuff.

The street sellers are offering a product (fake or otherwise) at an affordable price. The money you saved will then be spent somewhere else on other goods and services. You would not have been able to do that if you had purchased a jersey at full price. This is the marketplace at work and I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Trademarks can be a means of protecting a brand but it can also be a form of rent seeking by using the government to penalize competition. Sometimes buying black market goods is striking a blow for liberty.

Also, it is not comparable to the shark fin thing as you are not dealing with endangered living creatures (endangered mind you, because of the absence of a legal market with property rights).