Whenever something gains popularity it is inevitable that counterfeits are going to start showing up. I suppose it started with currency, but it has grown to a global market of an estimated $250 billion USD. The range of products astounded me when I started looking into this. If something with a brand name can be made and sold without paying any royalties or assuming any of the development costs, it will be done. I usually think of something expensive with a luxury name attached to it. Brands like Hermès, Tiffany & Co and Gucci come to mind, but you can also find counterfeit version of a $1.25 Sharpie – Its a Shoupie. I remember being approached by a guy on pay day (back in the day when you got a cheque and you went into a bank to cash it – OMG I`m old). He had a hard luck story about being laid off and the only thing he had left of any value was his poor deceased father`s Hamilton watch. He would let me buy it for $25 so he could feed his kids. On closer inspection, it was a Camilton watch worth maybe $2.50. I passed. The interesting part of this story is that he wasn`t technically doing anything illegal. He never said it was a name brand watch. He just allowed me to believe it was. But, that`s not the case for most counterfeits.
There are estimates that indicate that counterfeiting accounts for 8% of China’s GDP. That`s a lot of Sharpies.
With the growth in popularity of vinyl records, so goes the growth in counterfeiting. In some cases these are, in my opinion incorrectly, referred to as “bootlegs”. In my view a bootleg is an unauthorized recording that is copied and sold in some format. There are varying opinions on bootlegs. In my view they are not hugely problematic because they are usually poor quality recordings and if pressed to vinyl, the vinyl and pressing quality is poor. They are also not intended to fool the purchaser into believing they are buying an authentic original. True, the artists do not receive any royalties, but most of the more popular bootlegs are of concerts by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Aerosmith. They are not hurting.
Pirate recordings are also often confused with counterfeits and bootlegs. Pirate recordings are similar to counterfeits with the main difference being that they are usually sold at the same price as the original. Its a minor difference, but Pirate pressings are never intended to fool the purchaser. True, there is the issue of royalties etc., but a pirate pressing is not being sold as an expensive and rare original. Consider it to be like the person who knowingly purchases a knock-off Gucci purse for 1/100th of the price of the authentic version. Both seller and purchaser know its a knockoff and both are OK with this. Doesn’t make it OK, but at least everyone knows what is being bought and sold.
When a vinyl record is sold as an original but it is not and the person who created this version did so with the intention of fooling the purchaser into buying something they believed was authentic, then that is a counterfeit and that is a problem. The artists and everyone involved in the original recording are not receiving their share of the sale of the record and the purchaser is unaware of the in-authenticity of the record until it is too late. Best case scenario is you didn’t pay too much for it and you now have a novelty item and a good cautionary story.
To be sure, there are times when an inexperienced collector may unknowingly sell a counterfeit record, but one would expect that if it is a rare collectible even the most inexperience collector would have investigated its authenticity.
A recent case in the UK saw the British Phonographic Industry and police in South Wales spend several years cracking a vinyl counterfeiting organization. They seized over 60,000 counterfeit vinyl records.
A FACT article told of German authorities seizing 1.5-2 million counterfeit records, CDs and DVDs.
If you’re wondering how to know if a record is a counterfeit, check out this article for detailed information about how to spot a fake vinyl record.