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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.
I would never buy a counterfeit or knockoff because, at the end of the day, I am cheating myself. I would get no enjoyment from knowing that I had a knockoff of the real thing.
Excellent point Shaun, and I have to agree. I would never wear a fake Rolex, why carry a fake knife? Doesn’t give me any enjoyment. In fact, I think I would be somewhat upset with myself.
Why buy a counterfit when u can save for a couple more months and get the real deal, the fake hinderers and chris reeves are still up there in cost, you can get a real deal high end spyderco or benchmade for the same price as some of the fakes, i just dont see the appeal to buying fake knives, its not why got into collecting anyways. Now if your buying a 20 dollar copy to have as a beater knife, so you dont have to wreck your 200$ benchmade that you want to keep in perfect shape, i dont see a problem with that, at least you have paid the money for the real knife.
I hear ya Tom, I haven’t looked too much at the price of these things – but for me, if I really wanted a Hinderer or a CRK, I would save up for it. Sure, it’s expensive – but it’s not like I need one of these knives. Plenty of more inexpensive offerings out there that will cut just as well.
Just like BikingShaun said, I won’t ever buy a fake simply for the fact that I am not going to be happy knowing I have a fake. Also, I am not going to give my money to the greedy people who make these chinderers and steal the design calling it a real Hinderer. Good topic
Thanks man. Yes, ultimately Hinderer, CRK, Emerson, etc – they aren’t getting paid a cent for the counterfeits. I know in this digital age a lot of theft occurs, but I can’t help but think the knife community is a little above that. It’s a more tightly knit group, people interested in an XM know who Rick Hinderer is, etc. I dunno. Maybe I am extremely jaded but it just doesn’t sit well with me.
the Rob says
.The knife industry, like other small industries (aftermarket automotive in my experience) have been demolished by knockoffs made in countries where labor can be had for very little, and similar looking products are produced at much lower cost. It costs domestic manufacturers (or originator of product) profit margin to even begin to compete pricewise, then they typically have to sell people on why they need to buy the “real thing” thereby further eating into their profits.
Folks have forgotten “you get what you pay for”
I hate the idea of counterfeit knives. Even though i only buy from reputable vendors, it still worries me that a fake could slip on through. 🙁
Judas, you make a great point. I tend to do a lot of my purchasing online, and it’s something that has kept me away from buying Striders on forums. Counterfeits definitely dilute brands and in some cases, they can straight up be a ripoff for people who don’t know any better. That said, if you are going through a reputable vendor I think the chances of purchasing a counterfeit will be very low.
Michael Zelick says
Well said I came close to buying a counterfeit Canada Goose jacket and I’m from Canada,I finally got my money back, a lot of hoops to go thru, same with knifes as one person said you are only cheating yourself.
John D. Wheeler says
I have no problems with knockoffs, unless a patent infringement occurs. If people want to buy a cheap imitation of something, let them. I frequently do; if a cheap imitation egg cracker breaks, it is merely an inconvenience. For a knife that I am counting on for my survival, though, I want to know I am getting a quality product. This is where counterfeiting is evil; people don’t know what they are getting.
Thanks for the thoughts John. I agree a knockoff is a lesser evil, and if there is no patent then the design is public domain and perfectly legal to use. However, a lot of these knife designs are currently protected by US design patents. And we also have a lot of recent instances where the offending company is using the other company’s trademarks and logos.
When it comes to clothes the question if counterfeits and knockoffs is actually quite interesting. Roberto Saviano discusses it in his book “Gomorrah”, how the high design houses of the world (Gucci, Fendi, LV etc.) actually support counterfeiting to a certain extent as they know that a certain percentage of the “fake” customers will aspire to one day own the real thing which in the end will benefit them. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, knowing on the inside that yours is the “real deal” will make you happy every single time you see someone with a knockoff/fake. I wear a Breitling (a Superocean Heritage Chrono if you’re interested) whenever it feels right, it might be one of the most copied brands in the world but I really couldn’t care less. Mine is real and me knowing that is all I need.
Put simply: no average student can afford a Sub* so he buys the counterfeit/knockoff not to fool others, not to fool himself but to get a taster. When he’s graduated and taken on that job at the bank/law firm/company he’ll have enough money and guess what he’ll buy? A Rolly Sub, ’cause now he can finally have the real deal brand spanking new.
Rolex is actually an interesting talking point when it comes to knockoffs as they for the longest time and still to this day own the Tudor brand which is….well, a cheaper (all things being relative) Rolex knockoff. In the early days they even marked they cases “Rolex” as they were one and the same thing, really.
In this day and age “You get what you pay for” is no longer the truth. The post-modern truth is that “you pay what the market is willing to pay and producers will jack up RRP because they know we love deals”, this is why most and/or all of our online knife purchases are below RRP.
Which brings us to industrial design.
Noone can have avoided to hear about the frankly silly patent disputes between Apple and Samsung et al that is currently going on all over the world. Transmutate that into the knife world and you’d have Michael Walker suing everyone who used a liner lock, Al Mar going apeshit on all front locks, Chris Reeve kicking in doors to get his own back and David Boyd….well, I’m not exactly sure of what he would do really.
These things get silly in the end – when is a hole a Spydie-hole and when is it oval enough? The reason so many “MOLLE/PALS”-items are a pain to get on your gear is that they have to be out of mil-spec just enough to not pay licensing fees.
So, those of you who think knockoffs are terrible, answer me these questions:
A) Do you make sure mr Walker gets his share whenever you buy a liner lock (I know at least one maker pays their dues).
B) D’you think Sal Glesser should get a percentage of every knife made with a pocket clip?
C) Ever watched any pirated material on the interwebs (IE: do you pay for your porn)?
D) Ever bought generic (IE legal copied 3’rd party) drugs such as own brand paracetamol, ibuprofen etc?
E) You only use Leatherman multitools and curse anyone using Gerber/Swisstool etc?
Me? I’m perfectly content living in my world of grey. In my knife drawer San Ren Mus and Enlans sit next to their Benchmade and Spyderco “brothers from other mothers”. I’ll draw the line when it comes to real fakes and I might find it a bit boring when someone blatantly rips someone elses’ design off (see: SOGzilla) but that is my decision.
Lew, Interesting and thoughtful reply for sure! Thanks for raising some very interesting questions. Having studied US Intellectual Property law and worked on patent, trademark, and copyright issues I may have a “less interesting” approach to some of these questions but you definitely raise some very provocative points. First off, of course the world operates in shades of gray – which is why I tried to carefully tailor my argument rather than take on all the injustices in the world at once. 😉 And just to illustrate that I too operate in a world of gray, I received a SRM 763 as a gift – it has an axis lock on it. I gotta admit I liked the knife a lot – to the point where I gave it a pretty glowing review. In hindsight, it’s totally hypocritical. But hey, I’ll at least admit it.
That said, in the examples you provide there are clear cases of misconduct (at least under American law).
A) If Sal Glesser actually patented the pocket clip then he would be entitled to exclusive use or he could license it out and get a royalty. Unfortunately for Sal he didn’t get a patent.
B) Downloading internet porn without paying for it – clearly illegal unless it’s somehow public domain. Good luck going after the end user, but they occasionally do. The legal and economic issues surrounding digital piracy in general are fascinating. Ultimately, these media companies need to get smarter (not just talking about porn here – music, video, software, etc).
C) Buying generic medicine? Perfectly legal. The companies who initially developed the drug enjoyed patent rights (exclusive rights to make the drug) for 18 years, after that it became public domain. Under American law we think this is equitable.
D) Walker’s liner lock? Sorry, I don’t see the patent – it’s totally legal to copy.
D) I have no idea what the history of multi-tools is, but I imagine the classic “Leatherman” folding multi-tool is not protected by a patent any more (if it ever was).
I’m not saying the American legal system is perfect – it is definitely not – but it’s the best thing we have right now.
Some miscellaneous thoughts: I personally would never buy a fake Rolex. Instead of purchasing a cheap knockoff I bought a $40 Casio. Also, by definition Tudor is not a knockoff Rolex. That is like saying a Byrd is a “knockoff” Spyderco. It’s simply a knife manufactured overseas for Spyderco under the Byrd moniker. If some companies “like” some forms of counterfeiting because it raises awareness or piques consumer curiosity in their brand well, my guess is they make up the minority (or are just in denial and want to put a happy face on things). Most of the research I did suggested that counterfeiting causes way more harm than good for companies (the size of the counterfeit market is great evidence of that).
Lew once again, thanks for the great comment man. It’s such an interesting topic, partially because there will never be an all-encompassing perfect answer. Ultimately my point is that certainly people are allowed to do whatever they like, but if it’s showing off their counterfeit knives on YouTube, I may just call them out on it!
I might have missed the mark a bit (it was a bit later last night) but my main point is this: What the law considers right and what I as a person consider to be right are two very different things. BM patented the Axis so noone can make Axis but BM are more than happy to make linerlocks without paying Michael Walker. Then you have the entire Spydie-hole argument which in my mind is just silly (you can patent i geometric shape? really?).
My point is that apart from the falsely labeled counterfeit goods out there (who actually cheapen another brand) it is a huge sea of grey out there. Benchmade don’t have a chinese patent for the axis (because chinese law doesn’t give two shits about copyright) so that SRM is at the same time legal and illegal? This is as nonsensical as pharmaceutical patents sunsetting after 18 years but intellectual property rights lasting more or less forever.
The questions I asked wern’t questions about legality, copyright or other rules on paper. I simply wanted to raise the moral and grey questions related to these issues. When does a new knife/tool/rifle/whatever go from “inspired by” to a “stolen” design? Is it the innovation we are trying to promote or is it simply a question of legal paragraphs and who got to the patent office first?
In regards to Byrd/Spyderco or Tudor/Rolex I actually fail to spot the distinction between the two sub-brands. I understand one costs more to buy than the other but they’re both made in the same factory out of the same materials by the same workers. The Oyster Perpetual in a Tudor is as mechanicly (in-)accurate as the OP in a proper Roller and a CaraCara is as much a Spyderco as a Tenacious.
I would also like to state that SRM makes some pretty wesome knives. Not just great for the money but great, period. Patent infringements nonewithstanding (I don’t remember us in the west paying licensing fees when we started producing China) I can’t see a reason other than protectionism* not to at least dip a toe in proper Chinese folders.
*Protectionism is a valid reason but it makes life oh, so boring (and stifles innovation).
Thanks for clarifying Lew. I guess my only point was that I think the law actually does a better job demarcating the gray area than people may think. Of course it requires a pretty extensive study of it – or a good amount of money. No doubt it’s proper use is biased towards the wealthy.
And you are absolutely right, sometimes a person’s beliefs and the letter of the law do not overlap exactly creating these ambiguities. However, American law aims to protect the preferences of its people since we function in a democracy. With such a diverse population it’s impossible to make everybody happy all of the time, and there are flaws in the system, but compared with other legal systems I think they do a pretty decent job here.
Ultimately my article was purely a narrowly couched opinion – feel free to disagree with my thoughts on purchasing counterfeits and knockoffs. It doesn’t offend me, obviously putting something like this out there is bound to stir up some differences in opinion so thick skin is necessary – I think it makes for interesting discussions! 🙂 I’ll definitely be writing more of these style of articles in the future, they are pretty fun to put together.
Earl Sweatpants says
I could see maybe picking up a knock-off at a flea market or something if I needed a completely disposable knife for some reason. But otherwise it’s just a waste of money. Unless you happen to be a criminal who just needs a cheap weapon, it will almost certainly fail you if you try using as a “real” knife. Just spend a few dollars more and get a well-made, quality steel blade and some sort of sharpener and you’ll be using that knife twenty years from now.
Wearing a fake watch might fool some people, but carrying a fake blade will fool no one. Anyone who knows even a little bit about knives will scoff and those who know nothing will not care.
Well said Earl. Yes, I think the instances where I would buy a knockoff knife are very rare indeed – maybe I want to give them to my enemies? lol. At any rate thanks for stopping by.
As you mentioned, I think the real problem here is with unscrupulous merchants and manufacturers trying to exploit the good reputation of high quality brands and products, rather than establishing their own.
It bothers me because there are licensed cheap knives already sold legitimately, you know? Kershaw is a great example. They have a huge selection of low-price, decent value knives that are mostly made in China, usually with glass polymer handles and 8cr13mov or 8cr14mov steel. That’s fine. I have a $17 black oxide-coated combo edge Volt II that I carry everywhere because 1) I’m not afraid of getting it dirty or damaged, 2) it sharpens easily, and most importantly 3) it cuts pretty much everything.
Ever since I started getting into the knife hobby – in no small part thanks to your site, haha – I’ve come to own a variety of knives, many cheap and a few very expensive. I would still never condone selling or buying a counterfeit or knockoff of an existing design. People should know that they are getting what they pay for. You can get the $20 functional knife that’s great for most things, or the $200 high-end engineered knife that will not fail you no matter what. But tricking people into believing they’re getting the latter by paying the former is unethical IMO. You’re profiting off something you didn’t make, and manipulating consumers into making decisions that could end up hurting them.
Excellent point Curtis!
Yes, I really don’t see the point to inexpensive counterfeit knives when there are already so many great completely legitimate inexpensive knives to choose from. Some of my favorite EDCs are well under $50. If you are really interested in a particular design and it’s out of your budget I honestly advise saving for it – owning a counterfeit will never deliver the same experience or satisfaction.
Two points: One was already make in the Opinions that you deal only with a reputable dealer. Some years ago, on eBay, a guy was selling F1 knives at a price that would caution a person that they were stolen or counterfeit. Being somewhat naive, I wrote to the “dealer” who swore that they were legit. When you see a normally priced branded knife selling new for less than 1/2 price, you have a fair warning.
The second point is a quasi confession. I spotted a knockoff of a very good designed, brand knife. I bought two as I had (or thought I had ) the skills to deal with any potential manufacturing problems. I didn’t have the skills like making the butter knife type metal any better. They were junk. I did the best I could and gave them away. $10 or $15 knockoffs of a $200 knife.
Fellow enthusiasts, the most overlooked factor for this discussion is that as an avid collector myself I often buy a replica, as an every day carry version of my prized knives.
Just like in fine jewelry, specifically diamonds and pearls, the originals are kept in a vault and the costume version is worn in public. Serious collectors of all art understand the simple function of replicas, cones, or fakes, whichever name you prefer to use.
My final point is somewhat counterintuitive: having fakes in the marketplace raises awareness of fine knife brands. Any true collector can be made aware of remarkable knives by way of these replicas and ultimately purchase the original versions. After all, those are worth collecting, fakes are not.
Replicas have no value at all. The genuine article does.