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A photo used to advertise a Chinese ‘G

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Bolan’ for sale down Dan’s operation by serving notice to the server companies, her sites miraculously cropped up a short time later hosted by new servers. She even had the audacity to have her own Facebook page.

As we can see, the attitude in China towards copyright is somewhat different to the West, despite China joining the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1980 and signing several agreements with the US to provide copyright protection and to uphold intellectual property laws. We asked an expat, Richard Thwaites, who sells premium quality (genuine) guitars in Beijing, his thoughts about the Li Dan case…

‘In my opinion there was little deterrent effect, and it may have inadvertently exacerbated the issue,’ Thwaites notes. ‘The situation was regarded by some critical observers as unintentionally informing hundreds of idle factories that there was big money to be made in counterfeit guitars.’ And it doesn’t stop there. ‘Cynics viewed the bust as being caused by either Li Dan doing something that angered the wrong people,’ he continues, ‘or she was simply the sacrificial lamb to appease some manufacturer.’

Did the bust have any effect? ‘It’s largely been forgotten about,’ he says, ‘and it has probably forced the manufacturers to be a little cleverer by making sure the product is virtually indistinguishable.’ Thwaites tells us of at least a dozen factories within a few hours drive of his home in Beijing that currently roll out fake guitars. So this possibly wasn’t quite the ‘monumental victory’ that Gibson declared it to be.

Another example that’ll have your jaw on the floor is the occasion CF Martin executives turned up to the ‘Music China’ convention in 2010 to find a ‘CF Martin’ booth had been set up displaying fake Martins – right down to the ‘Est. 1833’ strap line. Unbelievably, it was entirely legal under Chinese law. China takes a ‘first come first served’ line when it comes to trademarks and the crooked company had hijacked Martin by filing their papers first, leaving Martin powerless to stop them.

Thwaites has seen a similar thing on the streets. ‘A Chinese friend took me to a store in Shanghai that had a collection of Martins,

the full line of accessories, and even an “Authorised Dealer” sign,’ he says. ‘It was a fair-sized shop, out in the open, and as an “astute” expat I would have assumed that this was the real thing. The guitars looked genuine, played wonderfully, sounded great, and had Martin prices. After a few cups of tea and then a couple of glasses of moonshine, the manager asked me if I would like one made with my name engraved in the headstock. I thought he meant as an “add-on”. No, he meant an entire guitar would be made with my name in pearl inlay. After a bit of negotiation, he came down to about $600 for a D-45.’ Some readers may have read a similar story about a fake Apple store in Kunming. The store had Apple uniforms and logos… the staff even believed Apple was employing them. The acceptance of counterfeit goods is so ingrained in Chinese culture that Thwaites even finds it hard to convince his Chinese customers that his guitars are the genuine articles. Martin is taking the matter into its own hands with a high-tech approach to ensuring

This website sells Fender-branded guitars

– clearly inferior fakes

Hilariouslyspelled ‘Gibson’ sticker.


A shop in Shanghai claiming to be an authorised Martin dealer sells only fakes like this one their reputation remains intact. With the help of Applied DNA Sciences, they’ve begun using a process that imprints Martin guitars with forensic ID. ‘The DNA tag can be put into anything in the production process,’ states Gordon Platt, spokesman for Applied DNA Sciences. ‘It can be put into ink, for labels on wine bottles. It can be put into glue or varnish… just about anything.’ Whether this will do anything to halt the Chinese counterfeiters is doubtful, but at least both the consumer and the brand are protected.

Cracking down? While . to the western mind this all seems outrageous, the legal side of things is a complicated web that needs clarification.

‘China has, and will continue to present us, with a raft of cultural, legal and geographic problems regarding counterfeiting,’ declares Graeme Mathieson, Fender GBI’s General Manager. But surely the Chinese authorities are helpful? ‘Sometimes they are, but not consistently and not in the same sense as you would expect with other governments,’ he comments. ‘Chinese law surrounding intellectual property protection is still evolving and is not

FEBRUARY 2012 Guitar & Bass 21

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