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.

Anatomy of an Idiot or: The Case of the Counterfeit Judge

Doh!
Image via Wikipedia

As I regularly search for shows on my TiVo using keywords that relate to my interests and work, I ran across a rerun of ‘Swift Justice with Nancy Grace‘ that originally aired on 2/28/11 entitled “An online rip-off; pit bull puppies”.  This was caught in my filter because the word ‘knockoff’ was in the show’s description.  In this episode, the first case was of a woman who had purchased a pair of Coach boots from a website buymerchant.com.  Upon receipt of the boots, the Plaintiff stated that she believed they were counterfeit and was entitled to a refund of $174 USD.  Whether the goods in this case were actually counterfeit is actually not even relevant to what I’m about to share.  What followed was some of the most irresponsible judiciary-slash-journalistic behavior I have ever seen.

Grace first examines the boots saying, “If these are fake, I’ll buy ’em!  I’m all about fakes!”  She then hollers backstage, “Hey, bring me out my my ‘Frauda’!”  She giggled and looked back at the camera explaining, “My fake Prada.  I love it.”  As she brings the conversation back to the case on hand, she turns to the Plaintiff and uttered in a snarky drawl, “So… you don’t like fakes?”

After picking up my jaw from the atop my Birkenstock I witness Grace call in her ‘expert’  to authenticate the boots.  This guy’s qualifications were that he was a former employee at a Coach store.  Wait, it gets better.  As he makes his unconvincing case, Grace barks again and looks offstage, “Hey, bring me back my fake!”  Then she asks her expert to authenticate her ‘Frauda’.  He explains to her that it is counterfeit and that a real handbag of this type is of higher quality and would retail for about $1,500 USD.  Then Grace starts howling like a preacher with a bellyache with, “Fifteen… hundred… dollars?!?!?!  Do you know how long I’ve had this thing?  Five years.  That’s a good quality bag!”  Just as I did, you are probably asking if this idiot actually admitted to purchasing illegal goods, defend it and then promote the behavior from her bench on national television.  Yes.  She did.  You can witness an excerpt of the event for yourself by clicking this link here: http://www.swiftjustice.com/case_files/2011-02-28

While much of the civilized world is trying to discourage this type of contraband activity, we have a nitwit like this adjudicating cases with her own television show, and doling out legal advice on CNN.  While Nancy Grace is hosting ‘Swift Justice’, what she really needs is a swift kick in the rear end.

Google Reader: Latest trend in Fakery

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Even only a year ago, spam primarily consisted only of unwanted email in your inbox.  But now as blogs become more popular, services such as Google Reader make it easy for people to aggregate those blog feeds (commonly RSS and Atom) into your inboxes.

Along with feeds/blogs to which you specifically subscribe, one can also subscribe to keywords and topics known as ‘tags’.  Replica watch spammers constantly have to innovate ways to make it to your computer without getting caught in your spam filters.  This is also a method some call ‘indirection’ which takes a web surfer to a page that acts as a placeholder prior to linking them to the actual website selling the goods.  This is a method to evade security features built into most popular browsers.  The image on the right is an example of what such an ad may look like.

Folks, if there is money in selling replicas, bad guys are going to figure out a way to sell them.  They key is staying one step ahead.  The only way to do that is to hire a good team.

Now I’m going to finish my coffee.