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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 23:56 GMT
Britain's favourite fakes
By Adam Harcourt-Webster
The Money Programme

"Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, interest you in a cheap watch, guv?"

Fake goods
Fake DVDs are the most popular counterfeit

That's the traditional image of fakes, the way it used to be, the spiv with his coat lined with counterfeits.

But things have changed. These days there is nothing that's not being faked; films, fashion, spare parts, drugs, tea bags, cigarettes, even toothpaste. You name it, someone somewhere will be knocking it off.

In the past the problem was less obvious.

Most people went through life oblivious to counterfeit goods; but not now.

"You had to know someone, you had to be connected, you had to be a bit dodgy," says writer and journalist Tim Phillips.

"Now this just isn't the case, you just have to walk outside your own front door."

Costly problem

The scale of the problem is colossal.

Fake goods
An individual's crime may not be obvious to those around them

Counterfeiting cost Britain around 11bn last year.

Tim Phillips has investigated the global trade in fakes and says it's having a huge impact on companies' profits.

"If you look back 20 years the counterfeiting business was 1% of the size it is today," he says.

"This is an incredibly serious problem for businesses. If businesses had a line in their annual report [detailing] sales we've lost due to counterfeits, then a lot would have been done about it by now."

Popular counterfeit

A Money Programme survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori, suggests that the most popular fake product in Britain is the DVD.
Fake goods
Up to 40% of New Era-badged caps are fake

Of those surveyed, 19% said they had either bought or suspected they had bought a counterfeit, and of this group one in three admitted to buying a dodgy DVD.

The Money Programme follows investigators as they try to shut down illegal factories and clamp down on the criminals selling tens of thousands of fake DVDs.

At one West London market, the Metropolitan Police and investigators from the film industry's own anti-piracy body Fact, or Federation Against Copyright Theft, seized 40,000 worth of counterfeit DVD's ,including the latest Hollywood releases.

The British Video Association believes that nearly 80 million fake DVDs are bought each year in Britain, and it appears to be a growing problem. In 2007 Fact seized 2.8 million fake DVDs, a 74% increase on the previous year.

"The sale of these DVDs is impacting on cinemas, on people's jobs both in the UK and worldwide," says Fact's Eddy Leviten.

"There's a loss to the economy in general."

Deadly fakes

Many companies keep quiet about the damage the counterfeit trade is doing, but some are willing to speak out.

Fake goods
Some fakes damage brands, others are deadly

"We would estimate that 30 to 40% of all products bearing our name are counterfeit," says Tony Swaffield, responsible for brand protection at New Era, the world's biggest baseball cap manufacturer.

For a mid-sized company like New Era, this creates a big problem, and Mr Swaffield doesn't believe New Era's problem is unique.

"If you're talking luxury brands or sporting brands, I would estimate they are affected at the same percentage," he says.

Indeed, it is estimated the global trade in fakes could be worth $300bn (150bn) a year, or about 7% of global trade - and its growing all the time.

Electrical goods giant Canon has seen its video cameras, and printer cartridges counterfeited. The whole electronics industry is affected.

In Europe the printer cartridge market is worth some 30bn euros ($44bn; 22bn)a year and it's estimated that 7% of it is counterfeit.

More worryingly, Canon and other electronics manufacturers are concerned about the rise in counterfeiting of products including batteries and chargers. These fakes have the potential to kill.

"Its one thing to counterfeit the product which can damage a brand, it's another thing to potentially damage the safety and health of the individual consumer," says Canon's James Leipnik.

"Its illegal and outrageous."

The Money Programme: Britain's Favourite Fakes:7pm, BBC2 on Friday 15th of February

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