Most in the wedding industry are professionals dedicated to helping brides and grooms enjoy their big day. But like any business, there’s also a smattering of shady operators.
I know from personal experience many brides-to-be will be snookered into buying counterfeit wedding dresses. They think they’re getting an incredible deal on designer duds — only to be left with a cheap knockoff from some sweatshop overseas.
Fashion and clothing firms like mine share something with musicians, artists and software developers, among others. We’re victims of intellectual property theft. And consumers increasingly find themselves stuck with shoddy or dangerous counterfeit goods — while workers in the burgled industries find themselves out of work. In my industry alone, officials have uncovered more than 1,000 websites selling counterfeit wedding and prom dresses. In 2012, brides bought as many as 600,000 knockoff gowns online.
Counterfeit goods cost the global economy $250 billion annually. Rogue sites that mimic well-known retailers attract more than 53 billion visits each year, offering deep discounts on products that may look like the originals online — but sure don’t once out of the box. Federal law enforcement agencies have seized 2,700 websites over the past three years through Operation In Our Sites. These hucksters were selling everything from DVDs to golf equipment, all carrying fake versions of brand names. Just before this year’s Super Bowl, law enforcement seized nearly $38 million worth of phony game-related merchandise and counterfeit tickets.
This theft really hurts. Think about what goes into creating a wedding gown. Our designers are the best in the business, and once we have a design we like, we buy the finest fabrics and hire talented seamstresses to make them come to life.
These local jobs are put at risk by cheap rip-offs coming from exploitative assembly lines abroad.
As our economy advances, intellectual property has become increasingly important. Businesses dependent on intellectual property now account for more than 55 million jobs and $5.8 trillion of the nation’s output. Creativity and innovation have real value. Stealing ideas amounts to swiping valuable property.
And make no mistake — innovation is a risky, expensive proposition. The U.S. system of patents, copyrights and trademarks is designed to encourage risk-taking by granting innovators exclusive rights to the sale of their creations. It’s a system that encouraged New Jersey inventors like Willis Carrier to develop the air conditioner, Richard Williams the liquid crystal display and Les Paul the solid-body electric guitar.
Some shills for the rip-off artists argue that protecting intellectual property merely impedes the “free flow of ideas.” But intellectual property theft — whether it’s a computer program, a patented widget or a wedding dress — is undoubtedly theft. It hurts innovation, competition and consumers, who get conned out of hard-earned cash.
Businesses like mine are doing our best to safeguard our intellectual property from thieves. And consumer vigilance is always warranted — deals that sound too good to be true probably are. But we can only do so much, particularly when the criminals operate online from foreign shores. New Jersey’s leaders — and those across the country — must protect the intellectual property rights of their fellow citizens, which undergird our nation’s prosperity.