Viagra trial let-down, L’Oreal case made up

Anti-piracy adverts are the best. They’re hilarious.

I’m not talking about the ‘knock-off Nigel’ advert, which features a song about a guy too cheap to buy real DVDs. No doubt that ad is meant to be funny/zany/whacky. It isn’t. It is deeply unfunny. It is, in fact, so unfunny, so far along the unfunny continuum that it passes briefly into funny again before heading out into the realm of what physicists call anti-comedy, draining joy and good cheer from situations near it, eventually creating a black-hole of soul-crushing misery that makes children cry and fairies suffer domestic violence.

No, the funny anti-piracy ads are the ones that ask you, as you sit in a cinema where you have been charged more for four ounces of maize and some sugar-water than the film (whose merit is incidentally measured by how many bejillion dollars profit it made in the first weekend it was showing) to consider the ethics of costing the film industry money. They start something like: ‘You wouldn’t steal a car, would you?’ and end by telling you that buying/watching/thinking about pirated DVDs is stealing. My answer, as I sit in the cinema throwing popcorn at the screen, is always ‘no, but I would share it,’ or, ‘why buy what you can download?’ An episode of The IT Crowd on Channel 4 recently parodied it perfectly: ‘You wouldn’t shoot a Policeman and then steal his helmet. You wouldn’t go to the toilet in his helmet, and then send it to the Policeman’s grieving widow, and then steal it again. Downloading films is stealing…’

I mention all this, not just because I think copyright law needs to be radically rethought, but because knock-offs equal news. Last week the lynchpin of a syndicate selling fake Viagra on the internet went to gaol for his crimes. This pleased me for a few reasons: 1. I kinda hoped I’d stop getting those emails trying to flog the stuff to me, and 2. I was sort of hoping for some interesting headlines about judges being soft on crime. Neither transpired. But that news reminded me that eBay is being sued by L’Oreal for not doing enough to combat knock-off products being sold there.

I know, I know, two massively wealthy companies in a legal battle, corporate lawyers making a bundle. If only they made Viagra for sympathy. But what is really happening here is a large corporation trying to restrict the resale of its products (since that is the only way one could police fakes on eBay), thereby forcing customers to pay full price. And it is asking us to pity it because minor manufacturers are making a fast and tiny buck selling knock-off goods. Forget that the desire for designer labels is stupid, shallow and vacuous. This is goliath trying to kill a million little Davids who aren’t even armed with fairly stale buns.

Add to this the fact that L’Oreal subsidiary Ralph Lauren (Polo) was one of the companies who settled out of court in the notorious Saipan Sweatshop case (where 30,000 workers were abused for ten years), that they have refused to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics (a sort of Kyoto protocol for make-up, pledging to cut out little things like carcinogens from their products) and that they are largely owned by those paragons of virtue, Nestle. Remember also that subsidiary Garnier was recently fined for racist hiring practices and that L’Oreal has repeatedly faced charges of cruel animal testing.

Finally, remember that most multinational corporations, when one scratches the surface, have similar shameful secrets. Now ask yourself why you’d side with any of them on the issue of protecting their profits. Obeying the law is admirable, but Christians should recognise the ‘moral’ claims made by some corporations for the knock-offs they are.

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