We’ve all seen them – all those resellable sets of hand-made fake inflatable make-up that hover about in craft shops in an oversized styrofoam ball or plate or jar. You don’t have to look far to find them on eBay. People forget all about the United States’ forthcoming anti-counterfeiting legislation designed to crack down on the market for these fake cosmetics.
People are rightly irritated about the new law – of the 15 domains, nine have already been blocked. That is a good thing because right now online distributors of fake makeup like to think there is no such thing as an algorithmically-liable domain. Imagine that I walk into a store to buy fake make-up for my uncle. I’d have to go to a website to make the purchase. Why bother, I ask. They respond that it doesn’t matter if their website was wrong because in this age of instant data, there is no algorithmically-liable domain – so you could just keep walking. In fact, it’s better if you continue walking because there are so many dubious websites on the internet that sites are becoming like libraries, where there are so many more people moving through the box that finding that small voice that needs a book is harder.
Me, my uncle, the taxman. Photograph: Anonymous/Alamy
In the immortal words of Paul McCartney, these counterfeit agencies will soon be “breaking a few windows”.
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As you might expect, victims of these mask infringements are often depressingly vulnerable. Asylum seekers, former athletes, refugees and people in need of large amounts of financial aid are frequent targets of fake pharmacies selling methadone syringes, breast implants and HIV meds that don’t exist.
Do you ever ask yourself what’s more likely: that the shop assistant has taken time to learn new tools and know all the basic rules of being an expert make-up counterperson, or that there’s likely to be a premium for genuine brands in these transactions that have a viable market? You might notice that many items in the counterfeit rings are priced according to the reduced price of the initial sale price to maintain a steady flow of sellers. This returns funds to the criminal enterprises that supply and sell the mask counterfeits as well as to the importers who convince unwitting consumers to buy fake beauty products, often on sites such as Alibaba. And finally to the taxman: around the world, fake over-the-counter products are a huge money-spinner for governments and costs job losses.
Counterfeiter in Manchester City Football Club’s change rooms, 1992. Photograph: Raymond Graham/Getty Images
All this is on top of the ongoing perils that come with the street level “trading and selling” of counterfeit goods. In 2001-02 the counterfeit industry lost $10.1bn to law enforcement; we took an estimated $250m in duty and £7.5bn in VAT out of the pockets of domestic shoppers in the same year.
In the face of these staggering losses to the economy and the taxpayer, it’s important to recognise that it may not be your fault if some strange face is purporting to sell you the cheapest product you can afford. Let’s not feel too hard done by. That is, if you can hang on to your sense of humour.