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As someone who regularly creates video content, I often find myself watching a lot of YouTube videos about knives and gear. It is a fun pastime, living vicarious gear adventures through the many personalities populating the ‘tube. YouTube is a melting pot and a social network – a great way share ideas and to stay on top of the latest trends.
Unfortunately, the trends aren’t always pretty. No, I’m not talking about the inane zombie apocalypse gimmick where everything needs to be emblazoned with “toxic green” handles and bio-hazard symbols (although I must admit that is a most unfortunate turn). Instead I am talking about an even more disturbing trend, the alarming rise of counterfeit and knockoff goods gracing the silver screens of YouTube’s evanescent underbelly. I’m talking about blatant rip-offs of high-end American made knives mercilessly copied by overseas manufacturers and then readily sold for pennies on the dollar.
Now counterfeit and knockoff goods are nothing new, even in the knife industry. Although our first thoughts after hearing the word “counterfeit” might be dollar bills, Rolex watches, and designer handbags, the phenomena is widespread – extending to virtually every industry.
And really it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as counterfeiting is based on simple economics. When a company builds a successful brand based on high end products that people come to covet there is plenty of profit margin for overseas manufacturers to come in and make cheap copies.
These counterfeit companies don’t have to pay for bothersome things like research and development, licensing, advertising, patents, trademarks, and the other needless trappings of a legitimate business. Sure the finished product isn’t nearly as good as the real thing, but some consumers will accept the trade off when a decent fake can be had for a fraction of the price – to the point where the sale of counterfeit goods is estimated to make up as much as 8% of China’s GDP.
Now I know that ultimately counterfeiting will never end, and I’ve got no grand illusions that this rant will magically stop the purchase of these knives. Which is why my problem isn’t actually with the purchase of counterfeit knives in itself. Sure, counterfeiting is a terrible practice that is illegal and causes real companies real harm (currently to the tune of $800 billion a year, one fake Emerson at a time), but can we really stop it? In some ways, it’s like the war on drugs. The economics are there, the global political situation is what it is… sometimes you just need to pick your battles…
Which is why my beef is with some of the guys on YouTube and this bizarre situation where people are filming videos of their knock-off knives. A sub-culture is emerging where it has become socially acceptable to buy counterfeit goods.
It is still a relatively new trend, but is already gaining ground to the point where we tip-toe around the issue; creating euphemisms like “clones,” and setting aside the inconvenient moral analysis so we can get to the more weighty discussion of finding the most faithful ripoff. Such discussions are usually claimed to be for educational purposes only (of course). Like I said it is extremely bizarre, and I’ve yet to really see this phenomena in any other hobby. You don’t see videos of watch collectors ogling the latest Submariner knockoff, so why the hell are we so fascinated by how tight the tolerances are on the latest Hinderer “clone”?
The guys (and 4 gals) on YouTube currently filming knives represent some of the most dedicated enthusiasts in the space right now. These also happen to be the tastemakers and the trend-setters of our hyper-connected information age and they wield a lot of power. But with great power comes great responsibility, which is why it pains me to see this kind of technology used to encourage the purchase of counterfeit knives by giving them all this air time.
With that said, I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. I may not agree with it but purchasing a counterfeit knife is not a crime, and I’m certainly no angel myself. So this wasn’t meant to be some sort of “holier then thou” thing either.
My point is, if we are going through the trouble of recording our misgivings in 1080p, lets at least be real with ourselves and call a spade a spade. If your Chinese made XM-18 says “Hinderer” on the side, it’s a counterfeit. If it doesn’t, it’s a knockoff.
So if you want to buy a counterfeit knife, fine. But please, if you are going to make a video about it, don’t piss on my leg and tell me its raining. Call it what it is, the purchase of a counterfeit. And think twice before glossing over the moral argument. In an industry where we claim to value things like original designs and USA manufacturing, the moral ambiguities are just as important as any issues concerning the fit and finish.
At the very least, do it for the people who don’t know any better. Or better yet, do it because it’s the right thing.