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Susan Kirkland author of Start and Run a Creative Services Business
asks "What happens when people start stealing logos?"...

Grand Brand Theft

Susan Kirkland

There it is, that new car you've wanted for quite a while, parked right there in your driveway. A guy comes over and says, "Man, that is so totally cool. Can I have it?" You say, "No, you can't have it. Duh." And what would happen if he decided to take it anyway? You could call the cops, naturally, because car theft is a crime. As a democratic society, we've made a rule against stealing cars and those who get caught violating the rule, are arrested for grand theft.

What about brand theft?

In China's fledgling ecomony, brand theft is rampant. Brands established over the last century such as Chanel, Prada, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci (and even Moet champagne!!) have all lost billions due to piracy. Between the 700 members of the European Union's Chamber of Commerce and the upcoming 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, enough pressure is bearing down on local Chinese officials to support a copyright violation against a mall operator in China. Beijing retailers have signed a new agreement to stop the sale of counterfeit merchandise at malls.

Paul Ranjard, attorney and chairman of the intellectual property rights working group of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said, "Not every customer who pays 100 yuan ($12.50US) for a Louis Vuitton bag will pay 10,000 yuan for a genuine bag," Ranjard said, "but in the street, you have many people carrying the same bag, some of them have paid 10,000, some of them have paid 100, and globally the value of the brand is going down." Ah, yes, the value of the brand.

After all the trials and tribulations faced by the innovators at Research In Motion (RIM) with their Blackberry, here comes the RedBerry, China Unicom's ripoff, according to Denice Cabel, editor of ECN Asia. It's a handheld device that supports text, email, phone, web and a host of other offerings. Aside from the theft of the original idea, the RedBerry rapes and plunders RIM's customer base with a standard 5mg email account for less than a dollar a month in Hong Kong--the RIM rate is $64 a month. Should we gamble that consumers are more concerned about supporting the idea originator or just admit they don't care as long as it saves them money? The bigger issue is that the flagrant "thief of an original idea" is a state-owned company. "Certainly the government should be a vigorous supporter of trademarks and intellectual property rights," says Cabel.

The Chinese are the world's largest and fastest-growing provider of rip-off merchandise to the world. The country's mission is to help everybody look great by solving a simple problem -- not everybody can afford well-designed handbags or shoes at an affordable price. China pioneered a new, disruptive model of design that leverages the prisoner population on each project in order to create more variety and choice for the customer.

Designer brands and logos are highly prized by those who invest in them. The quality of their product and service built that investment through time and hard work. The brand reminds us of our experience with the product, reliance on it and its durability. This is called brand equity. When someone steals a brand, either by copying the merchandise or simply slapping the trademark on a different product, they cheapen the original and that dilutes the brand. They also remove all incentive for future innovation--nobody hires copycats when they're looking for original ideas.

A brand by any other name...

But the design community has a few of its own providers of rip-off merchandise. One of the more notorious is Logoworks, recently ranked 93 out of 100 fastest-growing new companies in the Entrepreneur Magazine and Pricewaterhouse Coopers "12th Annual Hot 100." Here's how they describe themselves in their press release:

"Logoworks is the world's largest and fastest-growing provider of logo design services to small businesses. The company's mission is to help small businesses look great by solving a simple problem--small businesses don't have good options for getting a well-designed logo or other graphic design services at an affordable price. The company pioneered a new, disruptive model of design that leverages a team of designers on each project in order to create more variety and choice for the customer."
According to tmcnet.com

Foot In Mouth Award for Logos Sounds just like the preceding paragraph describing the Chinese government, doesn't it?

Logoworks (among other online "logo depots" like InstaLogo) acts as a pimp to business, some of the same folks complaining about the Chinese. With their stable of prostitutes, Logoworks gets "the girls" to put out and lets the buyer sample the merchandise. Except some Logoworks designers browse the internet to save time and find ideas -- ideas developed over long hours by other designers for paying clients. After all, they might not get paid for their work, so investing time in a quickie that might not get used is a waste. The quickest work-around is finding something already developed and changing it just enough to get by. Here are some samples of the magic of Logoworks; check it out because you might just find one of your own painstakingly developed logos on board.
See: www.baddesignkills.com

"Foot in the Mouth" Award

Ma Xiuhong, a vice minister of commerce in Beijing, suggests "Right holders should actively pursue judicial protection." So we hope some major companies will visit the Logowork's site and actively pursue legal action. That's the only thing that will stop idea theft; big business has to step in and protect their brands. This is another good example of the eroded ethical boundaries within accounting firms and small businesses who buy copycat brands.

But the outstanding "Foot in the Mouth" Award goes to the fools who pegged Logoworks as worthy of recognition based strictly on their bottom line. Hot 100 -- Logoworks is hot, allright, and so is some of the merchandise they're selling.

Logo Samples

The real bottom line

The real bottom line is American business, whether large or small, should not support brand theft. The designers who provide original ideas and real logo development are small businesses, too, so the end does not justify the means for those small businesses struggling to save money by buying copycat merchandise. It's bad business for everyone, especially the designers who prostitute themselves by ripping off their peers. My advice to those designers is reevaluate your potential and stop selling yourself short. Even streetwalkers realize the down side of supporting a pimp.

Related articles featuring samples:

Techcrunch became a client to sample Logoworks services: he shows the results.

Read Robert Wurth's excellent Creative Latitude article, LogoWorks: Who Is To Blame? which includes the official LogoWorks response.

Here's a collection of Logoworks products and their predecessors courtesy of Katz Design.

      Susan Kirkland

See Susan's Blog: blogs.graphicdesignforum.com

See Susan's other articles:
* How Creative Entrepreneurs Succeed
* Nine Signs you're Not Getting Paid

About the author

best choice Susan KirklandSusan Kirkland is author of Start & Run A Creative Services Business a new book that shows you how to Translate your creative skills into cash ; Build a loyal client list to lock in repeat business; and market your creative skills worldwide. Learn what to do when from a veteran freelancer. Paperback: 200 pages; Publisher: Self-Counsel Press

�2005 Susan Kirkland, veteran freelancer and author of Start and Run a Creative Services Business, shares the secrets to finding and keeping clients, negotiating with vendors, protecting yourself from scoundrels and scalawags--a valuable resource for students and seasoned pros. For additional information visit www.sdkirkland.com

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