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Archive for September, 2007

Keepin’ it real fake: 10 of the world’s worst (or possibly best) counterfeits

Something people often say to me about the The Pirate’s Dilemma is that piracy isn’t always good, a statement I totally agree with – this is in part why piracy creates dilemmas. Piracy can drive innovation and force society to become more efficient, but sometimes there is no substitute for the genuine article, and all piracy creates is cheap imitations. To prove it, I set out to round up some of the worst forgeries I could find, but even some of these are better than the real thing…

1. Fake North Korean “Super Dollars”

Kim Jong Bill

The Super Dollar is a near perfect copy of a United States banknote allegedly produced in North Korea. Super Dollars have been circulating since the 1980s and the United States government claims North Korea is knocking out these dodgy Kim Jong bills for two reasons: as a source of income, and to undermine the U.S. economy.

Currently, it is estimated that 1 in 10,000 bills is a Super Dollar, so-called because of the fact that the technology incorporated to create them exceeds the technology used to create an original Benjamin. This oddity is one of the reasons others have alleged it’s actually the CIA knocking out the funny money.

Whoever it is behind them, the way things are going, they’ll probably soon be worth more than real 100 dollar bills.

2. Fake Iranian Starbucks


They may not have gay people in Iran, y’know, except for maybe 150,000, not including this guy, but they do have Starbox.

Seriously, we all like gay people, we all like heavily branded coffee…

Why can’t we all just get along?

3. Fake Mexican Game Consoles

X-game 360

Geekologie spotted the X-Game 360 in Mexico, also known as the Powerstation 3. I’ve seen something similar in the Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn, running a hacked, buggy version of “Super Marion Bros”, which handled a little something like this:

4. Fake Chinese Rolexes (that could end up costing more than real ones)

Rolex watch by Hive

photo by Hive

If you’ve ever been to a tacky vacation resort and not been offered an awful imitation Rolex, then the resort obviously wasn’t tacky enough. Many are tempted on vacation by Relexes, Prado shoes and Giorgio Delpino sunglasses, but U.S. Customs have recently introduced some tough new policies that could mean owning a fake Rolex ends up costing you more than a real one.

Mr. Mike Korpi of Oregon found this out the hard way when he came back from China in May with eight souvenir pirated Rolexes for his kids and grandkids, which had cost him a grand total of $14.40. Homeland Security seized the watches, and told him he was being fined $55,300 for violating Rolex’s protected trademark. “I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept in five days. It’s gnawing at me hard” Mr. Korpi told The Oregonian. “If they are supposed to be border protection and patrol, why are they bothering me with eight dinky watches?”

If it’s any consolation, Korpi was informed, he should have been glad it was Homeland Security taking action and not Rolex, because they might have charged him up to $100,000… per watch.

Beware of expensive imitations.

5. Fake Cartoon Shoes

Captain Planet AF1

The shoe pictured isn’t so much a counterfeit as it is a remix, but a terrible remix can be just as bad, if not worse. A customized Blues Clues dunk or a Sponge Bob Jordan is not a good look, but these Air Force Ones featuring Captain Planet are particularly offensive. If you’re old enough to know who Captain Planet is, then your way too old for these my friend. Yours for $99.99 at weegotyou.com. I was looking for some terrible fake Manolos as well, and that’s when I found…

6. Fake Barry Manilow

Fake Barry Manilow

I wasn’t sure if this guy should be on the list, because I actually think celebrity impersonators are better the less they look like their celeb namesakes. So by being the worst fake Barry Manilow isn’t really a Manilow-no, because he’s actually the best, no?

Either way, I’m booking this guy for the Pirate’s Dilemma launch party…

7. Fake/Real/Fake Handbags

Fake louis V

Like Barry, these handbags are actually pretty cool. These real Louis Vuitton “Speedy” bags branded “FAKE” by Korean artist Zinwoo Park went on show back in January at an exhibit on Andy Warhol and Korean pop art at Ssamzie Gallery. Of course, the pretend fake handbags were photographed and quickly pirated, and fake “FAKE” Louis Vuitton speedies are now all over the shop.

Swapmeet Louis

Given the spirit of the whole thing, it’s hard to know which is more authentic – the real fake bags or the fake fake bags? As Susan Scafidi notes on her great blog, Warhol would probably have gone for the latter.

8. Fake Celebrity Perfume (complete with ad campaign)

Fake Mariah Ad

At some point in our lives, many of us are conned into buying a bottle of out-of-date battery acid with “Channel No. 5” written on it in marker pen. Perfume pirates don’t offer society a lot of value, but they cost the industry millions. This summer they went even further than usual, and caused a real stink by coming up with a counterfeit ad campaign for Mariah Carey’s new M fragrance.

“An image of MC with her fragrance bottle photoshopped in the corner is being featured on several blogs” said a spokesman for Carey (I love that he calls her “MC”), “and is categorically not the advertisement for her new fragrance, nor is it even remotely close. The real ad for M by Mariah Carey will debut exclusively on TMZ during the second week of August.”

Gisele ad

The fake Mariah ad was actually an old ad featuring Gisele that had been photoshopped. But why would anyone do this? Was the pirate copy of the fragrance being released earlier and in need of some press? Like fake perfume, the whole story smells very fishy…

9. Fake iPods

Fake ipod

This little beauty was spotted by an Inquirer reader in Turkey, and it’s truly amazing. As well as sporting a record button, and an FM radio, it says “IPOD” on it in big turquoise letters, so you’ll never forget what it is!

Why didn’t the real Steve Jobs think of that?

Or the fake one for that matter…

10. Last but not least… the iCrack


My favorite forgery is another Apple knock-off, spotted by my good friends at VICE magazine in New York a while back. An unsuspecting hipster was sold a fake G5 laptop in SoHo for $200, allegedly by a passing crackhead, and VICE just happened to see him throw it in the garbage in despair, after he realized he’d been duped. Intrepid newshound Tim Barber picked it up to investigate. “It was way better than we ever imagined. It was a real iBook box, with a bunch of Village Voices for weight and the greatest piece of shit ever made. A fake laptop made of gray garbage bag and cardboard, spray-painted platinum silver and finished with A HAND-PAINTED APPLE LOGO DONE IN WITE-OUT.”

Imitation is often the sincerest form of quackery.

3 Feet High and Driving

Why has every taxi cab in New York…

Say No Go

been turned into a giant album cover for 3ft High and Rising?

3 feet

They look very cool. Apparently it’s a mobile public art project. I thought it was because of what a cab driver does if you try and ask them to take you back to Brooklyn anytime after midnight: they <Hall & Oates sample> "Say No Go." </Hall & Oates sample>

Fighting the Power: Some Strategies Better Than “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!”

Community activism has always been about using information as kung fu, but from charity Taser t-shirts to Burmese bloggers, around the world people are campaigning for social justice perhaps more effectively than ever, using and reusing information in some very unconventional ways…

When The Meme Becomes a Message

While your constitutional first amendment rights are no longer guaranteed as a citizen of the United States, when you are tasered for asking a public servant a perfectly reasonable question, you can guarantee the whole episode will be turned into an MC Hammer remix on Youtube, and whatever you happen to cry out in pain while electricity is coursing through your veins will be on the front of an even more painfully ironic skinny-fit T-shirt in less than 24 hours, available for $17.80. But kudos to the shirtmaker – proceeds made from the sale of the T-shirts is going to help the Jena 6.


D.I.Y. Media Networks vs. Government Censorship

As we speak, more than 10,000 saffron-robed monks in Burma are protesting the oppressive military regime, and some, maybe as many as ten, have died for their cause this morning alone. A similar uprising was brutally crushed in Burma 20 years ago, and thanks to the regime’s veil of secrecy, the Western media was kept in the dark until afterwards.

But this kind of censorship is no longer possible. Burmese citizens are feeding stories to ex-pat bloggers around the world, relaying stories directly from the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and Pakokku. A Burmese-born blogger Ko Htike, now living in London, publishes pictures, video and information sent to him by a network of underground contacts within the country. “I have about 10 people inside, in different locations. They send me their material from internet cafes, via free hosting pages or sometimes by e-mail,” he told the BBC News website. “All my people are among the Buddhists, they are walking along with the march and as soon as they get any images or news they pop into internet cafes and send it to me.” Using information from sources such as Ko Htike, the Democratic Voice of Burma radio station is able to broadcast news back into Burma from its base in Oslo, Norway, and has been doing so since 1992, giving the people of Burma a voice and hope for the future.

Keeping Them Honest With Tech Mash-ups

People worry about Big Brother, but often forget the awesome combined-power of Little Brother: The Voltron-esque might of millions of connected citizens now able to keep the powers-that-be in check. The President of Tunisia, for example, probably didn’t fear Google Earth, digital cameras or YouTube until a video surfaced about who was using the Tunisian presidential airplane. Although the President has been only out of the country officially three times in the last few years, his plane was been mysteriously seen all over Europe, like a UFO with diplomatic plates. People took photos and uploaded them to the net, and before you could say Candid Camera, Tunisians began asking questions about whether the taxpayer-funded plane is being used for vacations or shopping trips on the hush hush. It was a bit like getting caught using your dad’s car without asking. Except your dad is an entire nation, the car is a plane, and you’re not a teenager, but a president with some explaining to do…

Amazon goes DRM free

Amazon mp3s

It took another company from outside the traditional music industry to finally bite the bullet. Amazon announced today they will be selling music compatible with all mp3 players, absolutely DRM free.

A question of apples and oranges

Dog the bounty hunter

Dog the Bounty Hunter: definitely orange.

If your customers are trying to get oranges, what’s the use in telling them no and trying to sell them apples? People who download music illegally are trying to get oranges – they see DRM encoded, subscription based, not-entirely-compatible with your mp3 player-mp3 files as apples. This is why they upset the apple cart in the record business.

There’s a good piece on the pirate’s dilemma facing the record business on the BBC news website this morning. Legendary producer and Columbia co-chairman Rick Rubin is now talking about selling oranges. He’s supporting the monthly subscription model for buying music. “You’d pay, say, $19.95 (£10) a month, and the music will come from anywhere you’d like,” he told The New York Times.

But as David Pakman, the boss of emusic, pointed out to the BBC, “Per capita spending on music in the US in 2005 was $24 a year,” he says. “Music as a utility would pre-suppose that Americans are prepared to spend more on music than they did then, but speculation is that it’s somewhat less than that now.”

Pakman makes a good point, but the problem isn’t with the model, the problem is with the price. $24 a month is probably a little expensive, but maybe $2 a month, or $5 a month, or even $10 a month isn’t. Let’s pre-suppose people spend less on music, as Pakman suggests, but let’s also assume that people are consuming music in more ways, through more devices, than ever before, because they are. We can access high quality, digital recordings through phones, computers, Dog the Bounty Hunters sunglasses and even our swiss army knives.

The message from consumers over the last decade couldn’t be clearer – people want to use music any way they see fit, and that’s exactly what they are doing. But the labels have responded by (trying) to make it harder for this to happen (the BBC article above also mentions that Sony just scrapped its entire digital music strategy). If a music-as-utility monthly subscription model was introduced in the U.S. that made it ridiculously easy for music to spread as far and wide as possible, I’m talking easier than a Torrent, DRM-free, high quality mp3s for say, $4 a month, the record industry would be onto something.

It may well be the case that as well as attracting the majority of the current record buying public, many new consumers would sign up who don’t spend $24 a year on music, because suddenly the legit music business, for the first time, would be offering a better product than illegal file-sharing. $4 isn’t a lot of money for all the free music you can shake an iPod at, but if the amount of people who buy music at current levels signed up, the U.S. music industry’s annual revenue would double in size.

Given the current situation, surely this model has to be worth looking at?

Dedicated Followers of Fashion


James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of the Crowds, has written a great piece for The New Yorker on how the fashion industry thrives because designers are allowed to copy each other’s work.

“The fashion industry is not alone in its surprising mixture of weak intellectual-property laws and strong innovation” he writes, “haute cuisine, furniture design, and magic tricks are all fields where innovators produce new work without being able to copyright it. This doesn’t mean that we can always do without copyrights and patents, and fashion has unique characteristics that limit the damage that copying can do: it’s relatively cheap to come up with new designs, there’s a culture of novelty, and people are willing to pay more for the right brands. But we should be skeptical of claims that tougher laws are necessarily better laws. Sometimes imitation isn’t just the sincerest form of flattery. It’s also the most productive.”

It’s a nice digestible article based on the work of law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman’s excellent paper “The Piracy Paradox”, one of the most interesting and well written academic papers I’ve ever read. That can be viewed as a pdf here.

The Empire Strikes Back

Kaws Darth Vader Companion

Kaws Darth Vader Companion via Original Fake

Today the war on piracy stepped up a notch in both Germany and Sweden. In Berlin this morning, Germany’s upper house of parliament rubber-stamped an incredibly tough new copyright law, which makes it practically illegal for individuals in Germany to make copies of films and music, even if just for their own use.

According to Variety, “Consumer groups and the Green Party had campaigned in vain to include a “bagatelle exemption,” so that the measure would not “criminalize” youths and other private users. The law is set to take effect in 2008.

“The law goes beyond previous legislation brought in by the German government to help the entertainment industry. Germany’s federal justice minister Brigitte Zypris claimed that the legislative reform brought German law into line with European Union codes.”

Da, Da, Da, Daaa Da Daaa, Daaa Da Daaa…

Said Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing, “Nice going, Germany — between this and the new anti-hacker laws, you’ve managed to criminalize every productive member of the information society. Enjoy the caves and flint axes.”

Meanwhile over in Sweden, The Pirate Bay struck back against the media companies it claims are deliberately hacking and sabotaging its trackers.

A post that went up today says: “Thanks to the email-leakage from MediaDefender-Defenders we now have proof of the things we’ve been suspecting for a long time; the big record and movie labels are paying professional hackers, saboteurs and ddosers to destroy our trackers.

“While browsing through the email we identified the companies that are also active in Sweden and we have tonight reported these incidents to the police. The charges are infrastructural sabotage, denial of service attacks, hacking and spamming, all of these on a commercial level.”

Da, Da, Da, Daaa Da Daaa, Daaa Da Daaa…




A good friend of mine just turned me on to Faceless, a Sc-Fi film being released this fall, made entirely using CCTV camera footage obtained through the Data Protection Act, which is similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

This really resonates with one of the overarching themes of The Pirate’s Dilemma – using and re-purposing information to create, but also to defend ourselves. Many people are uneasy about the Big Brother society growing up around us, but I’ve always been more excited by the potential of Little Brother. This film looks incredible, but also communicates to the audience that although we are being filmed more often than we realize, we do have some rights, and that it is possible to manipulate what happens to the footage on these these cameras all around us.

Faceless is the brainchild of London-based Manu Luksch, an Australian filmmaker who both stars and directs. By taking CCTV of herself and blocking out the faces of anyone else captured on it, she created a story set in the future, in the “faceless world” – with herself as the only woman with a face. “We’re being filmed all the time, in all sorts of situations, by CCTV cameras,” Ms Luksch told BBC World Service’s Digital Planet program.

“As a filmmaker, I was really questioning myself – where I should bring in my own camera.

“I found out that under the Data Protection Act (DPA), one has the right to retrieve data which is held upon oneself. This does not only apply to medical and financial data, but also to CCTV images.”

Faceless is out Autumn 2007.

The music industry from a different angle

You’re in trouble

I really noticed there was something wrong with the music business when I landed my first job in the industry after graduating from university, at a label called East West (now part of Atlantic Records) in London in 1999. As an intern in the press department, I divided my time between fetching coffees and dry cleaning, stuffing promos in envelopes and being trained in the fine art of hassling journalists to write about records. It was fun, I was learning the business, but every so often I had to do a job that disturbed me.

One of my tasks was to occasionally rifle through the room of press files and throw out the photos, bios and press releases of all the artists that had recently been dropped (back in 1999, the year Napster was released, the press office was only just getting to grips with email). I was handed a hit-list of acts, bands from across the spectrum of popular music, most of which I’d never heard of. Some were signed for just a single, others for an album, and many for decent six-figure advances, only to be consigned to the scrapheap without releasing a single record through the label.

Cleaning out the room full of press files, chucking band after band into a big metal dustbin, I couldn’t help feeling like the grim reaper (Of course, the real grim reapers were the label bosses – I was but a humble clean-up peon). Ripping helpless acts from their major label spot and tossing them into the graveyard of those that nearly made it was a dirty job, I didn’t like doing it. But I wondered why anyone had to do it.

At the time, I assumed most acts got a major’s attention because there was some interest in them coming from somewhere at some point (After a few more years in the industry, I realized major labels aren’t always that smart). But the majors often sign artists on a whim, as well as shelving the ones they do sign, denying them their shot for no good reason at all. Artists sometimes have to spend years trying to get out of old contracts before they can release music again independently. The music industry as we knew it had to be replaced. There has to be a better way for artists to make money than to take their chances with that big bin full of broken dreams.

It took almost a decade, but it seems like that better way is finally starting to emerge. Piers Fawkes of PSFK recently pointed out:

“A lot of people in the music business seem to be rather glum these days but if you look at the music scene in a different angle – maybe the business has never been better. Simply amazing new services like Last.FM, Pandora and Amie Street have emerged to provide new ways to consume music. The problem is that where people think the business should be, is in the business of selling units of music.”

Other great businesses such as emusic, social.fm and sellaband are in rude health, Spiralfrog and we7 just launched and more new ventures are on the way. Those still looking at the business from the wrong angle will not make it. As Carlito Brigante once put it, “if you can’t see the angles no more, you’re in trouble.”

Lies about piracy and the lying mounties who tell them


According to The Inquirer, Canadian police yesterday admitted to completely making up the story that Canadian software piracy cost the country $30 billion a year. This figure has been widely quoted by anti-piracy groups, and was used to help bring in some tough new legislation earlier this year.

According to The Inquirer, “The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) did not conduct any independent research on the scope or impact of counterfeiting in Canada, but rather merely searched a couple news stories.

The sources for the outrageous claim came from an unsubstantiated telly news piece, which in turn got the figure from the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, which happens to be the movie, recording and software industry in drag, and which simply made it up.

It seems that the RCMP just saw the figure which was plucked out of the bottom of the IACC and printed it as its own. Soon they’ll try solving their cases by looking to see who did it on Wikipedia.”

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