Ask LH: Is It OK To Buy Bootleg Products?

Dear Lifehacker, Is it ever OK to buy replica/bootleg products? I’ll probably never spend $200 on sunglasses, $500 on headphones, $1500 on a handbag (or manbag), or $5000 on a watch. While I admire the aesthetics, I simply can’t justify the expense. Is this largely a victimless crime? After all, these companies aren’t losing me as a potential customer. Thanks, Bag Hunter

Shoe picture from Shutterstock

Dear BH,

This is the same rhetoric that software and video pirates use to excuse their illegal activities (i.e. — “if I have no intention of ever buying the product, that means the copyright owner hasn’t technically lost a sale. Ergo, I’m not stealing anything”). Of course, the reality is a lot more complex than that and the argument won’t hold up in court if a software company decides to come after you.

That said, copyright laws become harder to enforce when it comes to physical goods like clothes and sunglasses. In these situations, it can’t really be proved that the customer knowingly purchased goods from a bootlegger, whereas software piracy requires you to willfully seek out and download free content (the chief factor here is proof of intent).

In the case of the former, you could mount a plausible defense that you had no idea the stuff was counterfeit — perhaps you just thought it was on sale or didn’t realise the goods were imitating a premium brand. In most cases, the individual customer won’t be targeted by the manufacturer anyway; it’s simply not worth the effort.

So does this make it a victimless crime? Not exactly: if the World Customs Organization is to be believed, counterfeit fashion has resulted in the loss of nearly 400,000 jobs worldwide and billions of dollars in revenue over the past two decades. We’d naturally take those statistics with a huge grain of salt but the fact remains that cheap fakes clearly hurt legitimate businesses.

It’s also worth noting that most counterfeit goods are dirt-cheap for a reason. On a recent trip to Thailand, one of my friends picked up a bunch of bootleg DVDs and some counterfeit Ray-Ban sunglasses: around half of the DVDs didn’t work and the “Ray-Bans” literally fell to pieces after a few weeks of wear-and-tear. In other words, the main victim is usually the buyer.

You can find out more about copyright laws in Australia via the following articles:

Format Shifting 101: What Are Your Legal Rights In Australia?

How You’re Breaking The Law Every Day (And What You Can Do About It)

Busting Your Delusions About Content And Piracy


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