As is the case with other sectors of the fashion industry, counterfeiting is increasingly more challenging for bridal companies. But leaders are taking an aggressive stance with legal action.
In the seven years since the American Bridal and Prom Association was founded to help fight counterfeiting, the group has won nine federal court cases, shut down 3,000 counterfeit sites and has taken 30,000 illegal images from counterfeit sites, according to president Steve Lang. Last year Mon Cheri Bridals and Maggie Sottero Design filed a contributory infringement copyright lawsuit against Cloudflare in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In doing so, they are going after the web hosting and security company that is allegedly enabling foreign counterfeiters in the bridal industry. Lang, who is chief executive officer of Mon Cheri Bridals, is not alone in taking the legal approach.
In another legal case filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, American Clothing Express Inc., which does business as Allure Bridal, and Justin Alexander filed a complaint against CloudFlare Inc. for contributory copyright infringement. Both companies claim that their respective campaign imagery is being used by counterfeiters to try to convince online consumers that they are shopping at a legitimate online store, which in reality selling cheap knockoffs. Their complaint alleges that the web hosting and security company enables foreign counterfeiters to infringe more than 5,000 copyrights owned by Allure Bridal and Justin Alexander.
Counterfeiters have smartened up, and are no longer just using brands’ images illegally to sell their fake dresses, according to Lang. “We have attacked and attacked an attacked. What we’ve realized is that it is better to go after their CDNs — their Content Delivery Networks,” he said.
Having just returned from San Francisco, where the case has gone to mediation, Lang said Thursday, “If we stop them from aiding and abetting, in their process they hide the IP address of the offending web sites and the domain names, so that you can’t get to them. There is a circuitous problem here. They are supposed to work with us to identify that, but they won’t do that. If they won’t, there is no way for us to go after the domain holder. They are saying you should be going after the domain holder, we’re just a conduit, but that’s not the case. If you are hiding the identities, you’re aiding and abetting the theft.”
Counterfeiting worldwide is a $1 trillion problem, Lang said. In addition, the estimated $300 billion in counterfeit goods that are brought into the U.S. each year amounts to about a $60 billion loss in tariffs — if based on about 20 percent, which is well below the current rate.
Lang said California judges, who are in the hotbed of technology, are starting to change their views about the lawlessness or the license giving to technology companies that allows them to just do business at the expense of other people without considering the collateral damage. Lang said, “Us winning this case would be a political win for the entire country,” noting how his team “lobbied Washington, befriended senators, filed lawsuits and got judges to see the benefits of what we were doing.”
The mediating judge is deliberating whether the case will go to a jury, with Lang expecting the case to take the better part of the year. “This is the Lexington and Concord. This is the first volley in a war. We think the law is on our side. Apparel pays 40 percent of all the duties coming into this country. We are impinged upon greater than any other industries. The duties that are on us now are egregious and they make the counterfeiters’ offers much more appealing. We have to win these cases. Right now, these tech companies are raking in millions and millions of dollars daily and they don’t care where it’s coming from.”
Allure Bridals and Justin Alexander, family-run businesses, claimed they spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” annually on photo shoots with professional models in studios and in “exotic locations” around the world, according to the filing. They claim CloudFlare “aids foreign infringers in their systematic infringement,” which allegedly amounts to the plaintiffs’ use of those images, or slight variations, to sell another company’s goods. CloudFlare continues to allow the counterfeiters to use its services, despite having received “thousands of notifications of infringement,” according to the filing. Complaints sent to the “infringing site defendants, or to the entities hosting them in these far-away jurisdictions,” largely fall on deaf ears, according to the filing. The next court date has not yet been set, according to a spokeswoman for American Clothing Express.
CloudFlare did not respond to an interview request.
Phyllis Brasch Librach, president and designer of Sydney’s Closet, Tease Prom and Michelle Bridal, noted that some online retailers cull social media photos of women wearing authentic branded eveningwear, bridal gowns and prom dresses, and use them to sell inferior designs on their own sites. To try to substantiate that point, she sent a link to a page with an image of a woman wearing a Sydney’s Closet dress to sell an A-line Princess Sweetheart Sleeveless Applique Floor-Length Tulle Plus Size dress on another site. That style was listed Thursday for $140 marked down from $560. Librach said, “The online shopper is fooled into thinking all of these designs on this web site are the original designs of the counterfeiters, but all they have is the picture. They don’t have our pattern, fabric, resources, design specifics and fit.”
“There’s more technology, more money and just increased tenacity to fight these tricky counterfeiters. When it started they would use basic Google key words searches and steal our images to go with those key words. One of their latest tricks is they scrape the Internet looking for pictures of real women sharing their photos in a prom dress or a wedding dress, or even shopping for it. Then the counterfeiters put up those photos from social media on their sites,” she said. “Our search engine consultants just told us there has been a spike in ‘pictures of evening gowns for fat ladies’ and these odd search terms. So we think they’re searching the Internet for these images. Our professional consultants are assuming these are the counterfeiters because we have never seen these search terms come up before.”