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Manufacturer's Guide

This page is a resource for formal wear manufacturers who already have some background in fighting knock-off dress websites.


TopPromWebsites has made it our mission to fight knock-offs in the prom dress industry. We have a solution that will put a major dent in the knock-off sites ability to operate here in the United States. The idea is actually really simple, but because no one in this industry really talks to each other about what works and what doesn't, I will try and lay it all out here.


What does NOT work

There have been many creative ways by our industry to try and fix counterfeiting problems over the years. In the tabs below, we have listed attempts to fight knock-off's in the past, and what the result of those efforts were. Please take a moment to read the issues with each one.

Web Hosting
Back in the early-mid 2000's, knock-off factories would host their web servers here in the U.S. This was an easy fix because an email to the hosting company would immediately get their hosting pulled and the website would be gone. Result: They got smarter and started hosting their websites outside of the country so this tatic could no longer be used.

Legal Letters
A few manufacturers tried to fight factories legally through Chinese law. I believe that cease and desist letters (or equivalent) were sent, as well the hiring of attorneys inside of China. This is time consuming and costs money. Result: Nothing was accomplished on any large scale. One manufacturer might get one factory to stop making their lines, but the factory would continue making lines from others in the industry.

Shipping
Shipping carriers like UPS and FedEx will block shipments of a specific account, but they must receive a legal court document or customs ruling to do so. This is time consuming and costs money. Result: They can just make another account! What took you hundreds of dollars, a lawyer, and 2 months worth of time was countered in 5 mins by someone at the company making a new account with the carrier.

Payment
Payment processors - Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Discover, PayPal - Just like the shipping carriers above, payment processors have a system in place where they can block merchant accounts if they receive a legal notice. This is time consuming and costs money. Result: Most of the knock-off sites no longer use these processing methods anyway. PayPal, Western Union, and online payment services are a waste of time trying to get them shut down because it takes 5 minutes to create a new account and they are up and running again.

Block China
Attempting to get the retail stores here in the U.S. to block out China from being able to see our sites was actually a pretty good idea. The problem is you are dealing with a country that is technologically aware enough to get around being blocked out from a web site. Result: If the average citizen can get around "the great firewall of China," its safe to say that these factories can figure out how to view a website using a proxy or vpn that is not in China.

U.S. Customs
U.S. Customs has a policy similar to the Shippers and Payment Processors. There is a legal procedure you can start that will get products being imported by a company can be screened, rejected, or even disposed of. This is time consuming and costs money. Result: The problem here is this is company specific. A factory in China can change their company name/shipping account and they are right back in business.

Congress
Allow me to be very up front with you. We live in a free market society. There will never be a way to stop this to anyone's satisfaction. This is a systemic problem in many areas that are too broad and complex to fix. Apple is currently the most valuable brand in the world. Yet I can go online right now and buy a fake iPhone from China for 75% cheaper than I can get it at the Apple store, and have it delivered in two days. I hate to be negative about this, but if Apple can't prevent counterfeit products from coming in, I have little hope for the formal wear industry to have better results.

The Legal System
Major clothing labels have sued chinese companies in the past. They file a lawsuit, the offender does not show up to court, a default judgement is handed down, but the chinese company never pays the fine. They do not have to because they are not governed by our legal system. The best result achieved is getting the website shut down. Last I checked, it costs $8 on godaddy to get a new website. Think about that for a second... What took months/years of peoples time, navigating the legal system, and tens of thousands (millions?) of dollars, is completely counteracted by $8. Now, I'm obviously overstating the cost in "restarting a business" after its website gets taken down for something like this. But I am trying to stress the fact that it is cheaper for them to start over every time than it is for a manufacturer to go about fighting them in this way.

What does work?

The purpose of TopPromWebsites is consumer awareness via two methods. The 1st is a Site Seal that we provide for free that can be used industry wide to visually show customers that a site is trustworthy. The 2nd method is to use SEO techniques to put our results in google so when a customer searches for a bad website, we will rank highly enough to get their attention. We then advise them that the site they are looking up is not legitimate, and send them to our list of trusted online retailers.

What Next? This part is up to the manufacturers!:

Google DMCA

What manufacturers fail to realize is that the Google DMCA takedown process IS THE SOLUTION TO ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS.
What is it? - Google has a process by which you submit a claim of copyright infringement to have websites removed from Google's search results.

Why you should care! - 90% of global search traffic is through google. Getting these sites removed from google search is equivalent to taking away 90% of their business. I realize that this is not a total solution, but it is enough to cripple the knock-off industry when it comes to formal wear. Let me explain why.

The items listed at the top of this page that "do not work" have one thing in common. They are the old traditional ways to fight counterfeit merchandise. This is not working in the digital age. The reason? It will take a manufacturer time, money, and legal resources to go against every single knock-off site. The knock-off site spends no money or legal to defend themselves because they know that if they get shut down, they can be back up in a short amount of time (some as quick as 24 hours).

Google DMCA - The Process

It is time to adapt. You want an end to the knock-off sites? I'm going to show you how to do it by fighting a digital problem, with a digital solution:

That's it. Sound too good to be true? Its not. It really is that simple. Total expense to the manufacturer is a current employees time. And that time is so minimal, it can be added to a current employees work assignments. I read somewhere that there are over 300 knock off sites operating now in our industry. So to get started, you are looking at probably 15 hours of work. But after that employee spends his or her 15 hours, you never have to worry about your products showing up in a google search again, effectively eliminating 90% of that knock-off site's business.

After getting the initial sites taken care of, you simply keep a list of offending websites that are reported to you, and every Friday that employee can submit them to google, and the problem of knock-off dresses in the formal wear industry is fixed.

Imagine if every manufacturer implemented this today. We would see a 90% drop off in counterfeit formal wear. Not at some distant time in the future, but within weeks. Wow, just wow! I have never heard or seen of a more effective method to combat this problem.
You might say to yourself, "I am not going to assign 1-2 hours of work to an employee every week for forever." You have to look at the cost-benefit analysis of this situation. Lets say you have a $10 an hour employee that spends 2 hours per week sending in takedown requests to google. Your cost is $20/week x 52/weeks = $1,040. So for $1,040 a year you now have a way to completely take away your "enemy's" business. Also, the time that employee spends should shrink substantially due to the fact that the Google DMCA take down method is so effective that there will be less and less sites until they are all gone. The flip side of that coin is to continue fighting this with traditional means spending tens-of-thousands-of-dollars per year on lawyers, lobbying, and law enforcement, to have minimal effect. Only 7% of counterfeit merchandise is seized in the U.S. annually.

These knock-off sites may think they are smart, but as anyone who sells merchandise online will tell you, "there is no way to get around being zapped by google." This puts you, the manufacturer, in a position where it is quicker for you to take them down, than it is for them to get back up and running again.

I expect most of you manufacturers/owners to scoff at my suggestion that something so simple like the Google DMCA takedown request is the solution to our problems. But it is a better solution than anyone else has come up with. You can not continue to fight these people by traditional methods. Let me point out another industry that took their cause to the legal system. In 1999 and 2000, no one had heard of Napster, or knew what an mp3 was. The music industry (RIAA) decided to take their case to congress, lawyers, and the media. All this did was inform the largely uninformed public what an mp3 was and that services like Napster existed. The RIAA spent so much time and money fighting the problem with traditional means, that it ruined their industry. They should have learned to adapt to the digital age instead of fighting it. Had they made that decision quicker, we would all be buying our music from Columbia, Sony, Universal, etc, and not from iTunes (which has become the largest distributor of music in the world). Any effort you, the manufacturer, make to publicize our plight, only serves to make more people aware that they can buy a knock-off of your dress online.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Which road are you going to take?
Traveled Road: Spend time, money and legal resources to shut down a site with Shippers, Payment Processors, Customs, etc, only to have them up and running again with new accounts in 24-48 hours, and are still listed in Google. We have been down this road and it leads nowhere.
Road Less Traveled: Google DMCA Takedown Requests - Take away 90% of their business by training an employee (takes 10 mins) to submit DMCA requests to Google and have them spend an hour a week removing sites that infringe on your trademark. The knock-off site might get up and running again with new domain, BUT, it now takes months to re-gain ranks (and hopefully by then we have caught them again, and they have to start all over again). They will give up because A) they will not have enough business to sustain a site and B) it is now quicker for us to take them down than it is for them to start over.

It is time to get all the manufacturers on board with Google's DMCA takedown policy. We can end this struggle in two weeks if everyone would simply follow the suggestions provided in this post.

Manufacturers - You do not need a high price attorney to combat this problem. Talk to your in-house counsel about Google's DMCA take down procedure. Implement it today and see a 90% reduction in your counterfeit merchandise online.

Some Notes and a Disclaimer: Obviously, I am not a lawyer. You probably do need to seek the advice of an attorney before implementing this strategy. But this is very simple process, not something that thousands of dollars needs to be spent on.

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