The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For

A few weeks ago I saw a suggestion come across my Hulu welcome screen entitled “The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For”. My first impression was that I knew all about the brand, especially the many details of how it was counterfeited into oblivion. Either way, I knew I wanted to watch it to see if my account was correct or if there was more to the story.

Turns out, as comprehensive as I thought my perspective might have been, there were some things I missed, or was not privy to. I worked for their lawyers during the peak enforcement process and I knew things were a little off. And this documentary helps bring that to light.

Bobby Vaughn and Mike Cassel were two surfer dudes who appropriated the IP of a counterculture icon named Kenny Howard a.k.a. Von Dutch (1929-1992). Howard’s philosophy about Intellectual Property was that no one owned anything and that all creativity was meant for the world to share. So, in 1999, Vaughn and Cassel spun off the Von Dutch brand from another fashion line they had that was not doing well.

Before Bobby and Mike knew it, the Von Dutch brand took off. Celebrities were all over it, wearing their apparel on every television channel available. Along with the success of the brand came organized criminals they had previously tapped for startup funds. This made life difficult because there were established cartel captains that demanded cuts from the sales.

But the two surfer dudes, as savvy creatives as they were, could not manage the explosive success of this brand. It was then that they welcomed investors and a CEO from Europe. All of a sudden, French fashion designer Christian Audigier was the face of the brand. Christian blew the brand up to levels no one dreamed. But, as the genuine product sales grew, the counterfeit sales grew exponentially.

“Here’s the problem. When you are already a logo-driven brand where your logo is your main seller its easy to slap a logo on a piece of thing and sell it and call it Von Dutch. We were the second most counterfeited brand in the world next to Louis Vuitton.” ~ European Investor Tonny Sorensen.

This was where my team and I came in. In the early 2000’s, counterfeiting fashion brands on the Internet was at its peak. Yes, the flea markets and street vendors were also going bananas, but Internet sales were new, and I was the guy that handled these types of cases.

What was discovered was that the folks behind this brand never laid a proper foundation for enforcement. They didn’t spend the few cents per item required to tag the genuine goods properly so that they could be differentiated from the fake. By the time they brought in the proper attorneys and investigators, the problem was out of control there was very little that could be done.

“In the height of our business, we were doing probably around the $300 to $400 million mark. The counterfeits were north of a billion for sure.”~ Niels Juul, Von Dutch investor

I’ve met both of the original creatives Bobby and Mike during my years living in Venice Beach and find their stories fascinating. I don’t blame them for the counterfeiting problem (bringing in the cartels is another story). But, when the European investors came in and hired high-priced attorneys corners were cut while people were too busy making money.

The lesson to learn here is that, before your brand takes off, make sure you have already laid the foundation for a good enforcement plan. We can help you with that. Contact us at MI:33 and we will be glad to get things going for you.

Why Felix the Cat is a Detective Hero

Felix ChevroletI was running an errand the other day in Downtown Los Angeles. As a big fan of classic Hollywood and detective fiction, I relish in the landmarks and mainstays, from the outdoor urban paradise of MacArthur Park to the crowds of bustling travelers at Union Station; from the authentic Hispanic heritage so beautifully displayed on Olvera Street to the architectural marvel of the Bradbury building (where, by the way, the most cinematic scene from “Blade Runner” was shot). But none of them tickle me as much as the iconic Felix the Cat sign atop the almost century-old Felix Chevrolet. Continue reading “Why Felix the Cat is a Detective Hero”

All Hackers Are Phonies (Sort of)

Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, then anything built by man can be overcome. ~ George S. Patton

Let’s face it. Unless you are trying to fix a busted drainpipe or something similar, your adversary is a living, breathing being. You can hunt deer, fish, a wolf, a serial killer, or even a hacker. And conflict can be easily boiled down to living beings and their tools versus other humans and their tools. Continue reading “All Hackers Are Phonies (Sort of)”

Reputation Management Lessons From Roseanne

There are very few things more important to a company than reputation management and Roseanne Barr has inadvertently helped rewrite the handbook. I was in my early adulthood when Roseanne’s ground-breaking television show was in its prime. In its original nine year run, “Roseanne” led the charge in advocating homosexuality. Not only was “Roseanne” the first show to feature prominent homosexual characters, but she backed it up by stating that her two real-life siblings are gay. As ground-breaking and inclusive as the show was, I never cared for it. Continue reading “Reputation Management Lessons From Roseanne”

Warner Bros Cast Jim Carrey as Mark Zuckerberg and Didn’t Even Know It

With all of the news stories being published in recent days about social media data and privacy, I cannot help but be reminded of a not-so-great, yet brilliantly prophetic, film of the 1990’s. Let me first set the table. I was twenty-four years old and had just moved to Los Angeles to become a stand-up comedian. Months earlier, when I was a busboy at a Jersey Shore bar, I was constantly barraged by drunks shouting “Fire Marshall Bill!” This was due to my uncanny resemblance to Jim Carrey, referencing his recurring character in the critically-acclaimed sketch comedy show of the time “In Living Color“. My resemblance to him was not the only connection. Ever since I saw Carrey impersonate the entire cast of “My Three Sons” on Johnny Carson in 1983, I was hooked. I wanted to be him. Continue reading “Warner Bros Cast Jim Carrey as Mark Zuckerberg and Didn’t Even Know It”

Steve McQueen’s Advice About Online Threats and Leaks

I saw the classic Hollywood disaster film The Towering Inferno in my twenties, two decades after it was released.  I watched it after I read Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel by author Marshall Terrill.  In fact, after reading TerriIl’s book, I watched just about every Steve McQueen film that I had not yet seen.  One tidbit from the book that I found interesting was that McQueen and Paul Newman were such fierce competitors that it led to McQueen counting the lines in the script and demanding to one-up his rival in order to flex his new-found star power by having one more line than Newman.  Continue reading “Steve McQueen’s Advice About Online Threats and Leaks”

The Crack House Principle in Online Investigations

It should go without saying that, in every situation where a crime is taking place, it is most desirable to catch the perpetrator. Doing anything else, including merely disrupting their operation, is simply a consolation. With this in mind, I find that best practices are not always laid out properly so that professionals going into this situation know how to meet the desired end. Even though I specialize in online investigations, I come from the old school and believe that those skills are sometimes a lost art in the new world of online investigations. We will always be investigating people, not their tools. If I hear another firm tell me they are “investigating a website” I’ll pull my hair out. Continue reading “The Crack House Principle in Online Investigations”

Hogwarts Should Conduct Background Checks

background checksBackground Checks – Who are the Slytherin anyway?  And why is Hogwarts teaching them the ancient and forbidden magic arts?  My wife is going through the process of re-watching all of the Harry Potter films.  She’s read all of the books ahead of the films, watched the films in the theater and now she has decided to see them all again.  Perhaps this is in preparation of the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter next year at Universal Studios Hollywood.  Besides the first one that had Gary Oldman in it, I always encouraged Wifey to take a niece or nephew to see these movies.  Mission accomplished.  Somehow, though, I have a feeling I’m not going to be able to weasel out of attending the theme park.  To quote a great song of the 1970s “The Things We Do for Love”.  10cc had it right.   Continue reading “Hogwarts Should Conduct Background Checks”

The Haystack Principle of Counterintelligence

The Haystack Principle of Counterintelligence – Anyone who knows me or follows me online knows that I’m a pretty open person. I share almost everything I’m up to.  Anyone I know (or any stranger for that matter) can experience with me my lunch, thoughts on a number of odd topics, and even what I’m doing with my dog, Chauncey. In fact, right now you can click any link on the right of this page and learn a plethora of details about my exploits, both past and present.  You may say that this is bad for someone in the investigative profession. You are not alone. Overwhelmingly, security professionals of a certain level preach this concept as gospel. I’m here to tell you that, in the 21st century, “security by obscurity” is the most ludicrous method of keeping secrets. Continue reading “The Haystack Principle of Counterintelligence”

The Dark Web Ain’t As Dark As You Think

I have recently been asked several times by clients and colleagues about the dark web.  When I began writing this article I was still debating whether I should use capitals when addressing the dark web.  After a few thoughts, I decided that it does not warrant its own title.  The dark web is as much a proper place as a dark alley.  Before I discuss my reasoning here, I should give you all a quick synopsis of what the dark web actually is, and it isn’t what you may think.  The Internet, as we know it, is a network of millions of servers that connect to one another and, as a result, catalog one anothers’ contents.  This enables search engines like Google and Bing to index the information for free and resell it to their consumers for a profit, financed by advertisers. Continue reading “The Dark Web Ain’t As Dark As You Think”