I have been musing about W.F. Hogarth’s article for a week now. The whole incident speaks volumes, mostly unpleasant, about our society and culture. I think there are three intertwined issues here.
Firstly, and addressing Hogarth’s closing point and the comments left by a reader, there is a very real criminal aspect to the manufacture and sale of counterfeit watches and other high-price goods. Software shares some of the same dynamics as watches with regard to counterfeiting: both are high price items which are relatively cheap to fake. As a result, the Return on Investment for criminals is very high. To compound that, the relative risks are very low. I recall a presentation by a colleague in Microsoft’s Anti-Piracy team which contrasted an investment of £10,000 in counterfeit software compared to heroin. The software generated a return which was many times higher than the drug whilst the potential penalties for getting caught were significantly lower. Where would you place your dirty money?
The second issue relates to my earlier blog on the future of the UK’s Knowledge Economy. That one of the country’s prominent politicians feels it is a lesser crime to confess to wearing real fur than to condone a culture of counterfeit chic and lack of respect for Intellectual Property should be a grave concern. Can you imagine the reaction if she had said, "I bought it from a man in the pub" or "actually, it was just lying on a bench in the changing rooms so i thought ‘I’ll have that!’"? The fact that it raises relatively few eyebrows is a reflection on our lack of understanding and appreciation of what makes our modern economy tick. Ideas matter. It’s not an easy concept to grasp – in contrast to inefficiently manufacturing cars which no-one wants to buy – there is no tangible output. However, the knowledge economy now constitutes 40% of UK GDP and that is forecast to rise to 50% by 2010. Ideas matter. In three years time, half of the wealth of this county will derive purely from ideas and "mind-work": financial services, creative industries, computing, pharmaceuticals etc. If we want to continue to support and to build our future, we need to build respect for IP, for ideas; for the right of the creator to be rewarded for his or her efforts and to use those rewards to re-invest in future ideas.
The third point, and I confess it makes me feel and sound like a grumpy old git, is simply, "What is the world coming to?!?" We have a society which has absolutely no idea about quality. Kate Hoey is happy to flaunt her fake Gucci because it’s just the same really. It looks the same and most importantly, other people will think its real. Because, after all, it’s only the brand which counts. For the same reason, brand has become all important to the point of insanity. People will but Ferrari running shoes and Mercedes wind-cheaters. Why? what does Ferrari know about making running shoes? People will buy only clothes with a brand emblazoned across them – to the extent that John Lewis or Marks & Spencer or even Tesco have to invent brands to emblazon. What does it mean to have Cherokee spread across the front of your shirt? Only that you, we, all of us have lost any sense or gauge of quality. Rather than buy an outwardly anonymous shirt of finest Egyptian cotton poplin, hand stitched with mother-of-pearl buttons, we buy a shirt with a little pony on it. Because it’s safer. People will know this is expensive because I can trust them to recognise Polo when I cannot rely on them to give me credit for fine cloth and tailoring.
Anyway, rant over. I need to sign off because I’m off to see the Bootleg Beatles and the Australian Pink Floyd show.