Global and criminal. Dangerous and destructive. A threat that should be taken all the more seriously as it has ramifications across all five continents. It’s a simple enough message yet not everyone seems to have taken it onboard, as the counterfeit industry continues to grow. Sales of fake goods are now worth several hundred billion dollars a year. These were the facts laid bare by speakers at the Swiss Day Against Counterfeiting, held March 22nd at Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL). An annual initiative under the aegis of STOP PIRACY, the Swiss anti-counterfeiting and piracy platform, this year’s event was organised by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) alongside the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH). The pharmaceutical and audiovisual industries were also invited, represented by Interpharma, Swissmedic and SAFE.
“Counterfeiting has global reach. It goes far beyond national borders,” declared Jean-Daniel Pasche, President of the FH, in his opening speech. “It used to be that luxury goods were the only target, but not so today. Now all kinds of products are copied, from watches to medicines, from textiles to leathergoods or parts for cars and planes. Music and films are copied. People just help themselves. Would you go to the baker’s and walk out without paying for your bread? I doubt it. Counterfeiting is an illegal activity that costs the Swiss economy alone some CHF 2 billion a year and undermines our national values of innovation and expertise. Counterfeiting violates intellectual property rights and damages reputations. This is why we’re all concerned and why there must be a global response.”
The FH remains active in the fight against fakes, and continues to launch initiatives to stem its spread. It works with government authorities in countries where counterfeiting is known to be rife, encouraging them to either apply existing laws more strictly or to strengthen legislation. It trains Customs officers and conducts its own investigations on the ground, resulting in the seizure of around a million fake watches a year. The internet is also a target for action. Since 2007, a million auctions of counterfeit goods have been stopped and software has been developed to identify websites selling fakes and have them taken down more quickly. “This type of identity theft must be taken seriously. Our competitiveness and our jobs depend on it,” said Philippe Leuba, state councillor for the canton of Vaud and at the head of the Department of the Economy.
Anastasia Li, president of STOP PIRACY, went on to remind the audience of the main reasons why counterfeiting continues to thrive: “Were we simply dealing with violations of intellectual property rights, we could use the means at our disposal to fight it. The fact is that counterfeiting is a far more lucrative industry than drug trafficking with sanctions that are anything but dissuasive. As a result, counterfeiting attracts all type of criminal organisation. So I’d like to thank all those who don’t buy counterfeit goods, now or in the future.”
Of course if there were no buyers for fake goods, the industry would be forced to shut down, but this isn’t about to happen. This year’s Swiss Day Against Counterfeiting decided to tackle the problem from a creative angle by inviting students at Swiss art and design colleges to produce short films and posters highlighting the implications of counterfeiting. The winning entries were shown at a prize-giving ceremony on the day, and will be relayed by the media with the aim of alerting as many people as possible to the realities of buying fakes.
The last word went to Nicolas Henchoz, director of the EPFL+ECAL LAB, a joint project by ECAL and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. “If we’re going to fight fakes, we must also promote authenticity. In this digital world, the people who create are scraping by while distributors are sitting on huge fortunes. This is typical of a changing relationship, when the object becomes infinitely more important than the culture that produces it. This is why we need to tell the story that surrounds each object, and even then we must distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. We’re witnessing a slew of fake values too. To give just one example, a vineyard in China is now claiming to uphold similar traditions to winegrowers in Bordeaux. We need to make the connection between material and immaterial value. The fight against counterfeiting is also a means of restoring the value of the authentic and original.”