Two years ago a group of us Art Copyright Coalition members began attending Chinese trade shows for the purpose of confronting copyright infringements. I admit I had doubts about whether the strategy would work, or just be a futile exercise trying to stop a tsunami.
Remarkably, the strategy is working very well. Even though we saw plenty of counterfeit products at the recent Canton Fair and Jinhan Fair, the amount was a fraction of what we encountered in 2012. Exhibitors were generally cooperative and willing to immediately remove infringing product from display.
I think Chinese companies are starting to pay attention to copyrights because it is in their financial interest: Western importers of Chinese goods are increasingly demanding that product be legitimate. A formal and informal worldwide network of “copyright watchdogs” is developing between art licensing companies and our legitimate customers. All of us are trolling retail stores and trade shows, and alerting each other when we see suspected counterfeit goods. This transparency makes it increasingly hard to get away with stealing designs.
Another factor is, simply, that we keep showing up. We have now been to 5 of the last 6 shows, and exhibitors know to expect us. It is highly likely that some business is just being driven underground, but that in itself is progress. Here at the biggest home decor trade show in the world, at the center of the world’s counterfeit production, exhibitors have to be careful about displaying infringing product because they know we will call them on it.
At this most recent show one of our bona fide licensees sent us an emergency email. They had come upon an exhibitor offering illegal Wild Apple artwork on dinnerware. Within hours we showed up in person at their booth and made the infringer remove the product. A great example of the copyright network in action.