If there is one thing that is unequivocally clear within and outside fashion circles, it is that the design label Louis Vuitton has no qualms fighting all the way to prevent infringers from making a profit off their name and products. Over the years, Louis Vuitton has sued many brands for trademark infringement and won. In July 2011, Louis Vuitton won a landmark case in Canada for millions of dollars alongside Burberry in Canada’s largest trademark counterfeit and copyright case.
The fashion industry and most of the world is becoming aware of Louis Vuitton’s aggressiveness and knack for making sure the brand’s name remains untarnished and/or its brand diluted.
Accordingly, when an actress, especially one of Yvonne Nelson’s caliber, is accused of selling fake Louis Vuitton bags, all heads naturally turn and ask, really? Ghana celebrities carried a story that accused the actress of selling fake goods accompanied with images of the fake goods on twitter.
A few things first. If you have never heard of Yvonne Nelson. In a nutshell, Nelson is an actress in Ghana’s Gollywood. She has had some crossover appeal in Nigeria’s Nollywood films. She is involved in charity work, a seemingly good actress by West African film standards but an actress not free from controversy. The controversy, in my view, usually have no merits but come with the territory of being a celebrity.
Nevertheless, since Yvonne Nelson launched her boutique store YV Closet Shop, there have been a slew of accusations on her selling fake Louis Vuitton bagss. The actress early last week categorically denied importing or selling any Louis Vuitton goods, much less fake ones in her store.
What’s really real? What’s true? For the purpose of Africa Fashion Law™ here on Ladybrille, the question is never whether reported allegations are true. The question is framed to say, assuming the facts are true, here are the legal issues that would arise. Conversely, assuming the facts are false, here are the legal liabilities that would flow from such facts.
Accordingly, we get into the substance in this case i.e. what exactly are counterfeit goods and why does it matter to all?
For starters, you all should know this is a big issue across Africa as it is in the USA and other Western countries. Specific to the larger fashion markets like Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, it is a constant fight between the government to wad off fake goods imported, primarily from, China that has caused, among other factors, a debilitating effect on Africa’s textile manufacturing companies and overall detrimental effect on the fashion industry.
Now we get into the gist of what it is we are really talking about here.
What is counterfeiting?
In simple terms, it is STEALING. The thief makes an imitation of your product, passes off as the real thing and steals from you!
Designers, assume you are a brand like Louis Vuitton. All of a sudden everywhere you turn, you see people selling your products with your brand name, complete with logo and exact replicas. What do you do? Devastating innit? After all that hard work, resources, time, money and someone can just rip you off like that?
What is at stake?
Beyond the endless sleepless nights and time away from your family and friends to build an empire that the world now wants, what is at issue are the following:
- Huge loss in sales and profits
- Dilution of your brand. There is a reason why you trademark your name which all of you designers should have done, like yesterday.
- Stifling of innovation. Remember the policy reasons behind the Trademark laws? Reference the hyperlink above. We want to encourage innovation. If someone can just steal your work, what is the incentive to get up and do it again??
- Loss of jobs. Guess what? If you lose in sales and profits, you will have to lay off workers. This in turn affects employees, vendors etc. and the national economy. Keeping up with the news lately?
- Loss of tax revenues. The government suffers also. They suffer we can’t have good roads, good schools etc.
- Increased organized crime. When people can steal and make money easily without consequences to their actions, what do you think is next? The thrill, the excitement of stealing and not getting caught only makes them take things to the next level. So, having understood the context of why Louis Vuitton and other brands should care, now you should be saying, “well then what the heck is the government doing about this?”
THE ANTI-COUNTERFEIT LAWS
The US government and other governments worldwide have set up anti-counterfeiting laws to combat these thefts. The U.S government also imposes criminal penalties and imprisonment for these thefts. How so? Here is what you should know:
- Brands, especially fashion brands, should have registered trademarks.
- Don’t just register your trademark and then abandon it. Stay up to date on it, this is your most important asset.
- If you do not register your trademark, you lack the ability to protect and enforce those trademark rights
- If you intend to do business overseas, register your trademark in those respective countries. Identify your priority countries. Identify your product categories that you will be registering. Have these all lined up and register ASAP.
- Okay you have registered your trademark(s). Now follow up with recording your registrations with customs in the targeted countries.
- Follow up customs recording with a surveillance program that alerts both law enforcement, your customer base and foreign lawyers you retain to keep an eye out for your goods being shipped into their respective countries.
- Train both the public, staff and your legal counsels on your real vs. the fake goods
- When a counterfeit good is seized, be sure to show up and follow up with appropriate steps including confirming the goods seized is indeed a counterfeit.
Now back to Yvonne Nelson. Is she selling fake counterfeit goods? She denies it. Well, what about the pictures on her twitter page captured by Ghanacelebrities.com and other news outlets claiming she is selling fake bags? That would be for Louis Vuitton to determine if it wants to take on Africa at this point and specifically Yvonne Nelson. It can then decide what legal theory to pursue.
Take note that Louis Vuitton just sued the movie Hangover for showing a fake Louis Vuitton in the film. So, can African celebrities like Yvonne Nelson be sued for allegedly perambulating Louis Vuitton fake goods on their twitter page and passing it off as the real deal? This is where social media meets fashion law. It is new territory and certainly there is nothing that precludes such a lawsuit.
I’ll catch you all on the next Africa Fashion Law™ case on Ladybrille.
Ms. Uduak Oduok is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Ladybrille® Magazine. An industry insider with almost two decades of hands on extensive experience in the fashion and entertainment industry, she is also a trial attorney and has counseled a range of clients from musicians, models, actors and actresses to designers on numerous areas of the law including contracts, business law, fashion and entertainment law, copyright, trademark i.e. intellectual property law. She can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share/pitch your Africa Fashion Law™ related stories with her. All other inquiries, please visit the www.ladybrillemag.com/contact for appropriate contact email.