A group of brand owners has accused the Government of stealing its plans for strengthening counterfeiting laws with the intention of watering them down.
The sale of copied goods deprives British industry of more than &£6bn a year, according to lobbying group the Alliance Against Counterfeiting and Piracy.
The alliance brings together the British Brands Group, British Video Association, Anti Counterfeiting Group, Federation Against Copyright Theft and Business Software Alliance.
The organisation has teamed up with Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally – sympathetic to the alliance’s cause in his position as chairman of manufacturing group British Radio and Electrical Manufacturing Association – to raise the issue of copycat brands.
Lord McNally’s Copyright and Trademarks Bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Lords later this month.
The Bill proposes increasing the number of trading standards officers to seize counterfeit goods and stiffen penalties against counterfeiters.
But it looks likely to be scuppered by the Government, which, according to observers, is unwilling to spend time or money on implementing the Bill.
But in an ironic twist that must be even more galling to the alliance, the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) has launched a consultation document on the issue – which the group says amounts to copying its idea.
Alliance members are accusing the Government of stealing its ideas and watering them down so the issues can be put on the backburner.
John Anderson, vice-chairman of the alliance and executive secretary of the Anti Counterfeiting Group, says: “This is a Private Members’ Bill which has very little chance of being passed.
“But we hope it raises awareness of how consumers are being ripped off by buying goods which could be dangerous, and the amount of tax the Government loses through these sales.”
A MORI poll in 1998 revealed that 40 per cent of respondents would knowingly buy a counterfeit product, suggesting there isn’t massive public backing for a clampdown.
The DTI seems equally cool on the idea of Lord McNally’s Bill, which would mean pouring millions of pounds into developing trading standards enforcement.
The DTI consultation document asks industry and consumer groups for their views on making changes to combat “intellectual property crimes” such as trademark infringement.
One observer claims: “The Government sees the Bill as a distraction to its own legislative process. There is no way it could afford to pump extra money into trading standards, which is what this Bill proposes.”
A DTI spokeswoman says: “Lord McNally’s Bill is very much industry-led. The Government has a responsibility to consult more widely. We will be talking to enforcement agencies, such as trading standards, and consulting consumers.
“But we are not ignoring the industry representatives. We are talking to the alliance about this issue.”
Although the alliance members believe any drive to raise public awareness is beneficial, they are clearly upset by the Government’s attempt to seize the issue for itself.
Alliance chairman Lavinia Carey says the Government has snubbed Lord McNally’s Bill to show it will not bow to pressure from lobby groups.
“The Government was hoping we’d drop our Bill so it wouldn’t have the bother [of dealing with lobbyists],” says Carey. “The fact is we have been talking to the Government about this for months. It is interested in some of our clauses and wants to set up its own legislation from concerns we have voiced.
“We will be over the moon if it picks up our idea and runs with it. The enthusiasm of the DTI for this issue seems to have rapidly increased since we set up in July.”
But the DTI spokeswoman responds: “The alliance knew we were thinking of putting out this consultation paper all along.”
With the McNally legislation set to fail, the DTI’s consultation paper has been distributed to the alliance’s member groups – but the alliance is already unhappy that the Government’s intentions are not serious.
Anderson adds: “We still have ideas up our sleeve because the Government seems to have left copycat packaging and occasional sales out of the consultation paper.”
Copycat packaging refers to products such as Sainsbury’s Classic Cola, which the multiple agreed to change after Coca-Cola complained about logo similarities.
The alliance also wants the threat of tougher action against landowners who knowingly allow counterfeit goods to be sold at events such as Sunday markets and car boot sales.
But the alliance’s involvement with both legislative processes reveals its lack of confidence in the McNally proposals.
The Government now appears to have jumped on the alliance’s bandwagon with the audacious intention of kicking it off.
Only time will tell if it is serious about legislation – or whether the consultation exercise is simply another sop to manufacturers on what will ultimately become a sidelined issue.