How does social media play a role in the fight against counterfeiting?

The exponential growth of online marketplaces selling counterfeit goods can be halted through social media.

With globalisation and digitalisation gathering pace, our world is increasingly connected. As a result, companies are benefiting from an ever-growing global trade, streamlined business processes, and an ever faster time to market.

The downside, however, is that counterfeiters, too, are operating more and more on a global scale. And although traditional websites are still prominent, it is especially the rise of social media, mobile apps, online marketplaces and instant messaging platforms that have made it easier to post and share offerings to an expanding audience. Thus, the counterfeiting business has soared in recent years.

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Latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveal the exponential growth of counterfeiting across the world. In 2013, international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods represented 2.5% of world trade (compared to 1.9% in 2005). In total, that’s around €411 billion – roughly equivalent to the GDP of Austria.

Counterfeiting even affects the printer industry. According to the Image Consumables Coalition of Europe, Middle East and Africa (ICCE), counterfeited printer and toner cartridges cause manufacturers €1.6 billion every year.

The effects for manufacturers aren’t just economic. Without the proper certification and quality checks, counterfeit products aren’t just low-quality – they pose a potential threat to people’s health and safety as their manufacture escapes any type of certification or quality check. That’s without even considering that counterfeiting is one of the main facilitators of organised crime.

And unlike pirated DVDs of the latest movies, it can be difficult to discern whether certain products are counterfeit or not. After all, counterfeit printer cartridges are on purpose made to look genuinely like the original products, so customers can be tricked into buying a fake.

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Indeed, this uncertainty seems to be reflected in the statistics. EUIPO found that 10% of consumers bought counterfeit products because they were misled, while another 35% have wondered whether the product they purchased was genuine or not.

This shows that nearly half of European consumers purchasing online are unsure of the authenticity of the goods they buy. This makes the task of building a trusted, transparent digital ecosystem that much more difficult.

Both consumers and manufacturers need to have trust in their digital environments. Therefore, adequate, up-to-date and even future-oriented legislation against counterfeiting is essential.

For European countries in particular, anti-counterfeiting legislation should be aligned with the main objective of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy – the specific aim of which is to build trust in the digital environment.

The impacted companies themselves also need to set up mechanisms to detect counterfeit goods. For the printer industry, for example, Lexmark has taken action by checking for manufacturers and sellers of trademark-infringing counterfeit cartridges. They also offer a “Check to Protect” programme, where customers can verify the authenticity of their cartridge by entering its 12-digit code into the system.

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But ultimately, intermediaries, such as Internet providers and search engines, as well as the corresponding routes to market, such as social media platforms, play the crucial role.

The key to tackling the growth of counterfeiting depends on the ability to prevent goods from reaching markets in the first place. And because of the intermediaries’ privileged position in the value chain between supplier and customer, they hold significant power to tackle the issue. Search engines and social media channels spread the word, and the offerings, in an incredibly easy and fast way.

And so, as more and more counterfeit goods are purchased online and facilitated by social media, they must be increasingly held accountable for the content they present to the public. Current voluntary measures are no longer enough.

An obligation needs to be put in place and proactive, proportionate and appropriate measures need to be applied to all actors of the value chain – especially media platforms – in order to prevent the infringement of intellectual property.

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Essentially, it all comes down to legislation keeping up with digitalisation. If we can update existing laws to make modern ways of selling good as safe and secure as the traditional ways, we will build trust in the online world and given confidence to consumers and businesses alike.

Buying a product online should be as safe, secure and transparent as walking into a store. If we can achieve this, we can all begin to reap the benefits of our digitally connected world.


Sourced by from Danny Molhoek, General Manager North West Europe at Lexmark

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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