Saturday, 18 December 2010

Air heads

OK, we all know that piracy is a very bad thing. It funds terrorism (*allegedly), cuts into the earning potential of big Hollywood studios, and even prolonged the careers of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley by three extra movies. 

Many people would argue that piracy is a victimless crime. So you download a hard-to-find album from a fileshare site - it's not like you're hurting anyone. Or is it?

We've all sat through those awful ads that are embedded onto DVDs warning us of the perils of piracy. Some compare it to stealing a car or a handbag. Others suggest that your friends will never speak to you again if you show them a shoddy copy of Die Hard 4 (as though decent picture quality could hope to improve that train-wreck of a movie). 

The record labels have been just as vociferous in clamping down on 'copyright theft'. Swedish torrent tracker Pirate Bay was famously shut down for enabling users to download music illegally. And countless music bloggers found their accounts frozen for sharing their favourite tracks online. 

So I guess it was only a matter of time before other industries followed suit and started pursuing pirates with all the tenacity of Kirstie Alley following a burger van. I'm just not sure they're going about it the right way. 

This time last year, the UK Border Agency seized a shipment of Nike trainers that were being imported from China. The shoes were counterfeit, and so Nike was notified of the case. It was obviously a major concern for the sportswear giant - imagine if the UK was flooded with knock-off shoes bearing their iconic swoosh logo. What if they were actually well made, and involved no child labour or sweatshops in their manufacture? Think of the damage to the brand. 

As a result, the Oregon-based business did what any company would do. They decided to sue the customers who claimed to have bought the shoes in good faith, assuming them to be the authentic article. Although the majority of cases were settled out of court, one unfortunate defendant found himself in front of a judge to argue his case. 

It turns out that E. Bateman's professed ignorance about the shoes' origins fell on deaf ears, as the judge explained: "Whether or not the defendant believed the goods were authentic is irrelevant to the question of trade mark infringement. Whether the goods are infringing goods or counterfeit goods is an objective question. The Defendant's state of mind does not matter. Equally the Defendant's state of mind is irrelavant to the question of importation."

Despite the judge's doubt about "whether the sledge hammer of these proceedings is necessary in order to crack this nut of this magnitude" Nike pushed on with the case and won. Thankfully, Bateman managed to avoid having to pay damages to the multi-billion-dollar brand. Instead, he had to promise never to infringe copyright again. But unless something is actually listed as a knock-off, how can any consumer buy with absolute confidence that Nike won't be knocking on their door with a writ? 

They could have gone after the manufacturers or the online retailer, but instead they chose to go after the customer who just wanted a new pair of trainers. Maybe something to think about next time you're browsing in Footlocker and see a cool new pair of Nikes. Just don't do it...

No comments:

Post a Comment