MILAN — Made in Italy is facing some challenging times, from counterfeit goods makers and conflicting laws on how best to combat the sale of fakes to the advent of 3D printers, which may soon let anyone make copies of branded jewelry at home.
These and other issues were the subject of the forum “Made in Italy nei mercati internazionali” (“Made in Italy in International Markets Forum”), hosted by Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore at the paper’s Renzo Piano-designed headquarters here.
According to Mario Peserico, the head of INDICAM– a trade group of Italian and international brands that includes Bottega Veneta, Bulgari, Chanel, Flos and Molteni & C., among many fashion and design names – has been combating counterfeiting for some 30 years, today the illicit gains of counterfeiting are used by terrorists and organized crime syndicates to finance their attacks and illegal businesses. Peserico said that terrorist cells rely on counterfeiting principally because it allows individual cells to raise money in isolation from other cells, so protecting broader networks.
Referring to counterfeiting as “probably the most profitable form of illegal financing for organized crime,” Peserico pointed out that the phenomenon has evolved significantly from the relatively innocent days when beachgoers splashing out a few buck for “designer” sunglasses and bags knew they were buying fakes and it was more like a game.
The advent of 3D printing is likely to create further challenges, Peserico said, pointing out that makers of jewelry, in particular, are likely to suffer the effects of homemade knock-offs of their designs.
An important part of the counterfeit business, of course, travels on the Internet and the issue of Websites– like Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba– carrying knockoffs is well known. However, taking aim at fakes on the Internet is important for contrasting financing of terrorists’ activities and organized crime, too, explained Giuseppe Peleggi, the director of Italy’s customs and monopolies agency. But controlling such traffic is very difficult because many such transactions pass through the “deep web,” where monitoring requires the use of technologies and techniques that could lead to privacy violations. “Here we are talking about issues like privacy and intellectual property rights,” he said, much like in the case of Apple and the San Bernardino terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Taking another tack, Peleggi pointed out that beating counterfeits involves extra costs for brands because it is necessary to invest more in things like product innovation to keep consumers interested in buying the real thing.
Echoing others, he called for harmonizing intellectual property protection practices. Only Italy, France, Spain and– to a lesser extent – Germany have world-recognized fashion brands “and each country defends them in their own way,” said Peleggi. “For us [in Italy], ‘made in’ is like an advertisement.”
However, he pointed out, efforts to combat counterfeiting in Italy have not always been successful for various reasons, including often overlapping and contradictory legislation and the lack of an EU-wide effort to protect “made in” products wherever they are manufactured in Europe: European institutions have not been very receptive to Italy’s years-long battle to force sellers of food and fashion products, for example, to place origin labels on their wares.
Peleggi said an approach that has been found to get some attention at European level is to point to counterfeiting as a public finances problem, for it leads to billions of euros in lost tax revenues. He also said that decriminalizing the act of purchasing counterfeit goods – which currently can carry sentences in Italy starting at three years in jail (but which are almost never applied) – and substituting it with heavy fines would have more impact: “A 150 euro fine for buying a pair of counterfeit sneakers will make buying the fakes not convenient compared to buying the original.”