LVMH Goes To War With Google Over Fashionable Fakes

Last year my best friend called me near hyperventilation. “Calm down,” I said to her. “What’s wrong?” She responded with a series of jumbled noises, words, and pants, all of which culminated in the following four words: Christian Louboutins, 99 dollars.

While googling the phrase “Christian Louboutin Bootie” to try and find any pair of last season’s suede ankle boot in a size 7, one of the first sites that came up was one called BuyChristianLouboutin.com, with prices starting as low as $99 and not going much above $500 — a steep discount from the usual $600-$1200 range that the shoes run for. My friend promptly ordered her suede ankle booties, and then some.

Two weeks later, three boxes arrived. She waited for me to open them. I rushed to her apartment, jealousy already mounting, and rang her doorbell.

“I couldn’t wait,” she explained. She seemed distraught, and I asked what was wrong. All she had to do was hold up the shoe, expose the red bottom and the leather detailing, and no words were needed. They were fake. What we had originally thought was too good to be true turned out to be just that.

It’s easy to think something is legitimate when it uses a high-end brand’s name, logo, and shows high up in a Google search. But now, LVMH is in the process of fighting the good fight against ads for counterfeit merchandise — most notably on Google’s UK search engine, which controls an estimated 80% of the search market throughout Europe.

According to an article in today’s New York Times, “not only are [the products] fake…but when unauthorized parties buy [luxury brands'] trademarks as keywords to generate search ads, [the brand's] own cost of using those brand names on Google soars.”

This issue is nothing new to the luxury market. Last year, eBay was ordered to pay LVMH over $51 million in damages for their laissez-faire attitude towards selling LVMH brands’ fakes.

Tomorrow, courts will be grappling with the appropriateness and legality of such schemes. Companies such as LVMH and other luxury brands are hoping for a court ruling that will force Google to police the trend in Europe. According to NYT, “millions of euros are at stake, in a case with significant implications for the use of the Internet as a marketing tool for brand owners and as a money maker for Google.”

Google’s side? They want to be able to offer their search engine users an array of options. In other words, Google believes that in addition to directing you to Christian Louboutin’s website and other sites where you can purchase legitimate red soles, you might also want to know — and know quickly — where to buy the counterfeit version.

Luxury brands’ side? “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names,” Pierre Gode, adviser to LVMH’s Arnault said in a statement to the NYT. “Why make an exception to the digital world?”

Our side? As the brilliant Harper’s Bazaar campaign states: Fakes are never in fashion. The global impact of counterfeit goods goes beyond the salaries of the CEOs at major luxury companies. In addition to being a major fashion faux-pas, the illegal practice of purchasing and manufacturing fake luxury goods cost American companies an estimated $20 Billion loss, and that’s not taking into account the questionable and unregulated labor standards these manufacturers employ.

This battle abroad is just as much about the role the internet plays in the luxury market as it is about stopping the despicable production of fakes: an act that puts everyone — including your style — at a disadvantage.

[via New York Times]

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