Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Forgeries: Canal Street to the Port of Miami

It looks like Rick Ross cannot keep himself out of the news. After the much over-hyped confrontation between Ross and 50 Cent, Ross now finds himself at the center of a "street cred" scandal. On the May 2009 Edition of XXL, Ross sports Louis Vuitton shades, prominently displaying the distinct LV logo.

It's no surprise that hip-hop artists are wearing fake glasses and sneakers. The money's seldom as good as the talk on the latest single, but what new questions are raised when an artist publicly flaunts forgeries? Is there a difference between wearing fake shades on the airplane or at an award show and wearing them for the cover of a magazine?

The LV folks didn't take lightly to Ross's stylistic decision. A lawyer for Louis Vuitton, Michael D. Pantalony, wrote XXL this letter:
Dear Editor:

We were dismayed to see the cover of the May 2009 issue of XXL Magazine, which features a photo of Rick Ross wearing a pair of sunglasses prominently featuring counterfeit Louis Vuitton trademarks. Because the photo has generated considerable confusion among your readers and Louis Vuitton customers among others, we feel it is important to clarify several points.

The first is that the sunglasses Mr. Ross is wearing were not made by Louis Vuitton, and in fact, are counterfeit. Louis Vuitton did not grant permission to Mr. Ross or to whoever did make the sunglasses to use our trademarks. The second is that no affiliation, sponsorship or association exists between Rick Ross or XXL and Louis Vuitton. The third is that counterfeiting is illegal.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to correct the confusion.

Michael D. Pantalony, Esq.
Louis Vuitton Malletier
Copyright infringement with respect to handbags, sneakers, and clothing has long been a problem and although sporadic reports of crackdowns have surfaced, it seems the forgery market is alive and well. Canal Street, long the center of the forgery market, is but the beginning of the problem. In almost every major U.S. city you'll find places to purchase knockoffs so good they might even be better made than the originals. I recently spent time in South Florida, where the world's "largest swap shop" happens to be located. The vendors were stocked with counterfeit merchandise. Some of it looked good, some of it... well... didn't exactly make the cut.

The problem is prevalent and law enforcement seldom has the resources to track down ever corner store, tent, and flea market booth to find those profiting from breaking intellectual property laws. With serious crimes like murder and assault often large problems in metro areas, it's logical to see why IP violations fall by the wayside. Many would logically argue that fake Kate Spade bags don't cause double digit increases in a city's murder rate.

The problem does not stop at hip-hop. Suburban families purchase counterfeit goods, students (even law students) flaunt their illegal merchandise in classrooms and lectures. The irony of a law student sitting in intellectual property law, laptop encased in a fake Vera Bradley computer bag, a fake Dooney & Burke purse tucked neatly under a chair crammed full of Nutshell books, and fake Juicy Couture sweatpants on is not a foreign image. It occurs in colleges across the country on a regular basis. There comes a point where consumers will actually flaunt how accurate their forgery is as opposed to saving money to buy the genuine article. I've observed some of those conversations and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

How do we combat this sort of IP violation?

(Canal Street photo by Jennifer Bodrow)


  1. Ross now claims that the frames are LV but he had them custom made. Basically, it's like a tricked out car ...

  2. Thanks for the update, Anonymous. That sounds like a convenient excuse, but I've seen pictures of people modifying their soft top cars with LV fabric. Anything's possible and I'm willing to accept Ross's explanation. Even if Ross's statement is true, I doubt that all artists with suspected forgeries are able to claim the same explanation.

  3. Counterfeit sunglasses, shoes, clothing:
    How does stealing the intellectual property of merchandise differ from stealing music online?

    If so many artists are concerned about the integrity of their music and getting paid for making an album: Than maybe they should be reconsidering how they behave with stealing they clothing brands, etc.


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