“Copy, copy!” is the term some Africans use to refer to those who lack creativity, originality and believe they should steal other people’s work. The “Copy, copy” person and concept is, however, not unique to Africa. Indeed, it is a huge threat to the USA’s national economy. For example, in fashion products alone, the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), a non-profit Washington D.C. based organization focused on combating product counterfeiting and piracy, estimates that approximately 18% of the $98 million of counterfeit products seized by U.S. Customs in 2002 were fashion-related items: apparel, sunglasses, watches, handbags and headwear.
In 2002, police raided New York’s Chinatown retrieving over $125million in fashion goods including fake watches, handbags, sunglasses and wallets. The fashion industy is very much aware of how fakes hurt their bottom line and indeed at the forefront of aggressively fighting counterfeiters is the high end luxury brand Louis Vuitton. The company has hired top notch law firms, spent the requisite dollars for high billable hours and had some favorable results as to the counterfeiting of their products. So, of course, it was a real shock for me when I saw Marc Jacob, send Tote bags for the Spring 07 collection onto the runway. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I thought. These bags are the exact replica seen in local African markets across the continent. I also now understand, upon further research, that they are also common in China. Really? It definitely brought up questions of fashion piracy in Africa of Africa fashion goods. What legal protection if any do African designers have in their work? Since they lack the resources to push their products in the Western market, how common is it for Western designers to find inspiration in Africa and shortly after or at some point show a replica of same bags, clothing, shoes and so forth on the runway?