Duped or Duplicated? The Difference Between A Counterfeit And An Accessible Homage

By: HR Fitzmorris

Even non-legally versed consumers know that counterfeit or fraudulent products are illegal. In fact, some may have even experienced the euphoria of getting what they thought was a steal on a new designer product only to find out that it was a different type of ‘steal’ altogether. 

But what about “dupes”?

Unlike counterfeit products, which are copies of trademarked consumer goods meant to be passed off as the real thing, dupes (short for duplicate or duplication) are products that mimic other companies’ popular products without seeking to trick the consumer into thinking it’s the real deal. Dupes usually mimic high-end, in-demand goods and are sold at a much lower price-point—essentially the Gen Z version of a “knock-off.” Dupes have become extremely popular with the rise of social media advertising aimed at younger demographics. Teens that may not be able to afford a wildly trendy Cartier ring ($2,995) certainly may be able to scrounge up the change for the Amazon dupe ($12.99, with free next day shipping!).

The “Real” Fakes

To the everyday consumer the distinction between a counterfeit and a dupe may seem dubious, but in legal terms it’s significant. Counterfeiting is a concept used to “indicate an infringement of intellectual property rights, namely acts (use, manufacturing, or sale, for example) carried out without the consent of the intellectual property right holder.” “Counterfeiting” is the “act of making or selling fake products with the intent to deceive consumers. In the United States, it is illegal to produce, distribute, or sell counterfeit goods.” 

There are more issues with counterfeit goods outside of intellectual property infringement and their morally dubious nature. There are also possible health and safety issues with fake products that flout FDA or consumer protection standards.  There’s of course, the economic harm to legitimate businesses that lose money when their customers are lured away. The ever-present environmental harms associated with the flood of mass-produced, easily discarded items lurk behind the scenes. There’s even concern that counterfeit goods play a role in funding broader criminal enterprises.

Dupes: Duplication or Duplicity?

One of the important elements of counterfeiting is the “intent to deceive,” and this element is a significant piece of what separates dupes from counterfeits. Dupes do not claim to be the real-deal. In fact, part of their allure is that purchasers are getting the same or similar quality and functionality of the original without the original’s branding (and the associated price mark-up). As Claire Kane put it in her article for online publication MIC: 

While “fake” is a dirty word in fashion and “counterfeit” sounds unethical, the more neutral-sounding “dupe” suggests making savvy purchases and “somehow cheat[ing] the system” to get the look for less.

Companies hoping to crack down on dupes and knockoffs face an uphill battle in court. Without distinctive, trademarked branding that makes counterfeits fall within the reach of traditional trademark infringement, brands find little sympathy in the law. The current state of U.S. copyright law as it pertains to clothing and accessories has significant gaps. U.S. copyright law does not fully protect items defined as useful articles, which are “objects having an intrinsic utilitarian function” and “clothing” is the very first example of what counts. So, without the direct, obvious infringement on the branding, companies are unlikely to prevail.

Can You  Smell the Difference?

An especially interesting sector of dupes gaining popularity are designer fragrance dupes. Most dupes, like a certain handbag or shoe dupe, the knockoff brand doesn’t need (or want) to explicitly refer to the original product—it relies on the consumer to ‘get’ the reference. Not so with replica fragrance brands such as Oakcha, Dossier, or ALT Fragrances, which directly rely on references to their designer counterparts in their marketing. In fact, they often list the fragrance they were “inspired by” right on the bottle, or in the product description. So, what makes fragrance such a fertile ground for direct and blatant knockoffs without running afoul of trademark or copyright law? 

The answer is a combination of technology and law. First, new technological developments have made it extremely easy to reverse engineer specific fragrance formulations. Also, while the branding or packaging of a perfume may be eligible for copyright protection, a perfume’s scent is not because the scent serves as the “functional purpose of the product.” This makes it, under trademark law, ineligible for registration with the USPTO (functionality is a bar to registration). Perfumers can look to other avenues of protection such as obtaining a patent over the perfume formula, or trade secret protection, but these protections are difficult and costly to obtain and have drawbacks like disclosure. 

The legal landscape concerning dupes is unique and developing. It is inconsistent across products and complicated across industries. Whether you think dupes are simply knockoffs with a moral makeover or a legitimate industry that provides consumers with accessible choices, the law is unlikely to be the force that stems the tide.


By: Carl Rustad

Youtube Hate Preachers Share Screen With Household Names.” “Google’s Youtube has Continued Showing Brands’ Ads With Racist and Other Objectionable Videos.” These are the headlines Google faced in March 2017, as ads for Google’s advertising partners allegedly appeared alongside hateful or inappropriate Youtube videos. Within days, high-profile advertisers including Wal-mart, Pepsico, General Motors, AT&T, Dish, and Starbucks all pulled their ads from the platform

Google responded to these allegations by “implementing broader demonetization policies around videos that are perceived to be hateful or inflammatory” and “strengthen[ing] advertiser controls for video and display ads.” Using algorithms, Youtube “automatically weed[s] out inappropriate content,” sorting each uploaded video into categories purportedly reflecting their desirability to advertisers. Advertisers can exclude videos from categories like “tragedy and conflict,” “sensitive social issues,” “sexually suggestive content,” “sensational and shocking,” and “profanity and rough language.” Clearly these options reach far more content than the originally-complained-of hate speech. Videos determined inappropriate for advertisers are “demonetized,” meaning ads will not appear on them, they are deprioritized in search, and content creators will not receive any ad revenue from the video. The resulting drop in ad revenue is referred to as “Adpocalypse.”

As a result of these efforts, Youtube claimed “many advertisers have resumed their media campaigns on Youtube,” but also acknowledged that content creators faced “revenue fluctuations” due to demonetization and promised to provide “more detail around advertiser-friendly guidelines.”  Meanwhile, some content creators on the platform claimed to see an initial 80 percent drop in ad revenue due to demonetization, leveling off to a “40, 50, 60 percent drop” as videos were deemed not suitable for all advertisers. Prominent vlogger Vlogbrothers opined “[demonetization] has really squeezed creators who are making content that’s maybe good, but not, like, super-happy-family-fun-time stuff.”

Private Platforms Provide Strong Extralegal IP Protections

Adpocalypse demonstrates both the interest and the power that companies have in protecting their brands on private platforms. Brands are already entitled to certain legal protections. A trademark holder is protected against damaging associations in several scenarios, including when unauthorized use of their trademark causes confusion as to the source or sponsorship of a product, or tarnishes the brand by association with “unsavory” ideas. See AMF, Inc. v. Sleekcraft Boats; Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Haute Diggity Dog, LLC. On the other hand, there is no trademark infringement when the trademark is being used to describe a product or talk about a competitor’s product. See KP Permanent Make-Up Inc. v. Lasting Impression I, Inc. These are considered “fair uses” of a trademark.

But the companies on Youtube, of course, do not have to point to their carefully balanced intellectual property rights in order to control their representation on the platform. They can simply refuse to advertise on a platform if it tends to associate their brand with any less-than-ideal content. This is not a new phenomenon. Media has long catered to advertisers, with media scholar C. Edwin Baker claiming “the greatest threat of censorship in this country comes not from the government, but from advertisers . . . .” As online platforms mediate a steadily increasing amount of our time, advertiser censorship may become correspondingly more pervasive and omnipresent. With algorithmic and computing advances, such censorship can be systematically extended to hosted individual speech as seen in Adpocalypse.  

Real Time Content Moderation: The Future of Advertising? 

Adpocalypse concerned advertisers’ association with undesirable uploaded videos, which are scanned for content and demonetized and search deprioritized if they are deemed unsuitable for advertisers. This hawkish breed of moderation is enabled by advances in automated decision making. Over 500 hours of content are uploaded to Youtube every minute; each video must be scanned and categorized as safe or unsafe for advertisers. 

Platforms are now facing pressure to provide real time moderation to prevent violations of their terms of service by censoring disinformation, incitations of violence, and other abuses. Facebook Horizons already includes real time moderation features  allowing it to instantly deplatform or censor abusive–as determined by Facebook alone–virtual reality users. The advantages of such a system are obvious. Hate speech, harassment, and other universally-condemned behavior can be taken offline before it happens. Unfortunately, the concerns real time moderation raises are just as obvious. 

Platforms will continue to compete for ad revenue. As Adpocalypse demonstrates, online platforms are not simply censoring hate speech; they are beginning to censor anything not “advertiser-friendly”. Allowing fine control over the spaces in which advertisers’ products appear, not just how their ads appear, is a profitable course of action. One easily foreseeable use of real time moderation is to limit the visibility of advertiser-unfriendly speech in VR chat. But there is no reason to believe the technology will be confined to such transparent and simplistic uses. Facebook already sells sophisticated and hyper-targeted ads. Plus, US advertisers are willing to pay about $250 billion a year to control what consumers associate with their products. The market is there.

Given the impending capability and incentives for online platforms to moderate speech and the environment of speech in real time, it is time to take a hard look at the role of advertisers in platform censorship. While the First Amendment does not apply to private platforms, consumers should demand transparency from platforms about how speech is moderated and hold them accountable when moderation technology is abused to accommodate advertisers. 

(Don’t) Say My Name


By Vanessa James

“We’re a company that’s so successful and everywhere you go, you see a scratchy, hairy fastener and you say…

Hey, that’s Velcro.”

So begins the recent Youtube video Velcro released on September 25, 2017. In an effort to protect itself against genericide—an intellectual property term that means the retraction of a trademark because the brand name has become synonymous with the type of product—Velcro released a video pleading with the public to stop saying “Velcro” and start instead saying “hook and loop.”

It may seem innocuous to use brand names to describe products associated with the brand, but this is actually often a red flag that the brand could potentially lose its trademark. For instance, when was the last time you drank from a “vacuum flask,” walked on a “moving staircase,” or went to a “coin laundry shop?”

Velcro, which was first registered as a trademark in 1956, is trying to avoid losing its trademark, as did thermos, escalator, laundromat, yo-yo, aspirin, and pilates. The purpose of a trademark is to uniquely distinguish the goods or services of a company and to help consumers identify the source of a product. When a trademark becomes synonymous with a class of goods, it no longer helps consumers to understand which company made the product. If this happens, the trademark may be cancelled by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once a trademark is cancelled, the mark can no longer be used to prevent others from using the same mark to describe their products.

One factor courts consider when determining whether a trademark has become generic is whether the owner attempted to educate the public on the proper use of the mark and the generic name for the goods. Enter Velcro’s video. Ad campaigns like Velcro’s have a record of successfully stopping brands from losing their registered trademarks. Campaigns for Xerox (a 2003 advertisement from photocopier firm Xerox read: “When you use ‘Xerox’ the way you use ‘aspirin,’ we get a headache), Jeep, and Band-Aid saved those trademarks from becoming generic.  Johnson & Johnson changed its marketing jingle from “I am stuck on Band-Aids, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me” to “I am stuck on Band-Aids brand ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.”  Chrysler turned to the term “SUV” instead of “Jeep.” The Dow Chemical Company, which makes a well-known “line of extruded polystyrene foam products,” has worked to remind consumers coffee cups are not made of Styrofoam.

Another recent example of a company fighting to save its trademark comes from well-known jewelry chain Tiffany & Co. Tiffany initiated a legal battle with U.S. wholesaler Costco when Tiffany claimed that Costco infringed its trademark by selling “Tiffany” engagement rings. In retaliation, Costco argued that the jewelry firm’s trademark was no longer valid because “Tiffany” had become a generic term for solitaire-style rings. Judge Swain of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that Costco did in fact infringe on Tiffany’s trademark and awarded Tiffany $11.1 million plus interest in addition to $8.25 million punitive damages. For now, producing a simple, fun Youtube video is far less costly way for Velcro to protect its trademark.

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Grammy Award-Winning Band The Eagles Sues Hotel California

Hotel CABy Daniel J Goodman

Approximately 1,300 miles from a corner in Winslow, Arizona is a hotel in Todos Santos, B.C.S., Mexico. Its name? Hotel California. One can only assume that it’s a lovely place with plenty of room for all to live it up and enjoy the beautiful Tequila Sunrise Mexico has to offer. But, according to Grammy award-winning band the Eagles, this New Kid in Town is a downright Desperado trademark infringer. On May 1, 2017, the Eagles filed a complaint in the Central District of California for trademark infringement under § 1125(a) of the Lanham Act and for trademark infringement and unfair competition under California common law. Continue reading

Better to be Absolutely Ridiculous Than Absolutely Generic: The Estate of Marilyn Monroe’s Trademark Woes

Picture1By Gwen Wei

On Monday, March 13 2017, a ruling in the Southern District of New York threw trademark practitioners nationwide into a tumult when the presiding judge left open the possibility that a celebrity name could become too generic to enforce as a trademark. The issue: the court’s “serious doubts that V. International will be able to establish that the contested marks are generic”, pitted against its concern that “[r]eaching that conclusion at this state would be premature.”  The celebrity hanging in the balance: Marilyn Monroe. Continue reading