Kunming Fake Apple Stores Shut Down

The local authorities have reported their findings from the investigation they conducted into the fake Apple stores in Kunming, and a couple pieces of information have made it into the news.

The first is that they found five fake Apple stores in Kunming, not just three. I’m actually only surprised that it’s so few – the three that RP and I found were just the ones we happened to come across while walking home from dinner.

The second piece of information is that two of the five stores have been shut down – not for intellectual property rights violations, but because they didn’t have business licenses, the bare minimum necessary for a commercial retail operation.

What this means, of course, is that three of the five stores (coincidentally, the three that I put photos of on this blog) were issued valid business licenses by authorities who were, to give them serious benefit of the doubt, asleep at the wheel – and those stores continue to operate.

What this also means, I assume, is that by putting up that blog post, my husband and I are indirectly responsible for some number of people losing their jobs as employees of those stores. How do we feel about that? Terrible.

I want to explain again: when we photographed those stores and put up that blog post, it’s not because we found it shocking someone had ripped off Apple in China. I’ve been coming to China for almost eight years, and RP has been coming here for 10 years – we’re well aware of the prevalence of shanzhai goods and stores in this country. Even the street that the main fake Apple store is on has what we assume are numerous other ripoff stores – it has two shoddy Nike stores alone, and this is supposed to be the main upscale shopping street in the city.

We photographed these stores because they were such detailed and complete ripoffs that they almost rose to the level of artistry, if you look at them in the right frame of mind. And I put it on my blog because I thought that a few people outside my normal readership of, say, six people, might find it amusing too.

We’re not shills for Apple – we’re just appreciators of absurdity. And the idea that people might lose their jobs over a blog post seemed ridiculous. We hadn’t foreseen the fact that this story would sit perfectly at the intersection of Americans’ Applemania and Sinophobia and, as one article I read put it, “blow up the internet”.

This is not to say that I have no feelings about violations of IPR in China. I hold the prevailing Western opinion that a total disregard for IPR seriously hampers innovation. Given the extent to which IPR is ignored in a city like Kunming – and, I imagine, numerous other similar Chinese cities that you’ve never heard of, each containing millions of people – if I were a Chinese businesswoman, I would open a fake Apple store tomorrow. What’s the point of coming up with your own business idea if you can just lift an existing one wholesale that you know will be successful and won’t be shut down by the authorities?

I think it is a fair criticism that social injustice is being propagated by a system in which the workers who actually produce Apple’s products in China are unable to afford to purchase them. (Not that the Chinese people complaining on this blog about the price of Apple products are factory workers – let’s get real. You’re not labor activists, you just want Apple products as much as anyone, anywhere.) Indeed, an Apple product in China is likely to be more expensive than purchasing one in the US, or even Hong Kong. The reason for that, however, is because the Chinese government slaps a massive import tax on these and other such products, making it even less likely that people will be willing to buy the real thing and support enforcing IPR laws.

Shutting down these couple Apple stores in Kunming doesn’t represent a move to enforce IPR laws in China – they were shut down in a little show-trial move on the basis of having been so shady as to not even have business licenses. But if such stores were to be shut down en masse on that basis, despite the loss of retail jobs, I admit that I would support it. I think that supporting such a move represents the hope that China could be a thrilling country of innovators on a scale that the world has never before seen – and it certainly represents a blow to the insulting insinuation that shanzhai crap is China’s major cultural contribution to the planet.

If France can enforce smoking bans in bars, China can enforce IPR laws. Agreed?

25 Comments

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25 responses to “Kunming Fake Apple Stores Shut Down

  1. I agree the stores were VERY impressive fakes and I am glad you shared, up until now I thought all china fakes were poor effort knock offs..!

    Try not to feel bad about the people losing their jobs at the end of the day it is ilegal, I understand it’s totally different in china, like you say there are a number of ripp off brand stores.

    However China needs to wake up and enforce IPR, like everyone else does (or should) in the world. As for them complaining that they can’t afford Apple products, nor can a lot of people :)

  2. Rose

    IPR isn’t just a high-brow, rich person’s ethical quandry. As you may have heard, China immediately buried the trains involved in the high speed crash this weekend. They claimed it was to protect THEIR technology, but its generally acknowledged that they don’t want proof that they stole high speed train technology from foreign manufacturers and they may not have done a good job. This is an extremely common practice in China…stealing blueprints, reverse engineering, those are at the heart of all Chinese car manufacturers. Except when it comes to cars, trains, subways, etc., if you screw up, people die on a massive scale. Ooops, you didn’t reverse engineer that Toyota’s brake’s correctly: thousands dead in resultant car accidents.
    Having lived here, you start to see what matters and doesn’t matter in the world of IPR. Clothes and movies: doesn’t matter (I’m happy to pay for streaming netflix or iTunes or Amazon, but $14 versus $140 for a boxed dvd set of a TV show, get real). Technology is the killer…literally 100% of all those bright young minds in China working to make “qPads” and mobile phone knockoffs. And those knockoffs on a large scale can result in the death of thousands of people.
    Unfortunately, if you’ve lived in China, you know that nothing short of epic catastrophe will ever change things there.

  3. You’re a nice person to be feeling guilty aobut those employees but the fact of the matter is that illegal stuff IS illegal and nothing can change that. Impressive illegal stuff though.

  4. The Chinese people are doing what they can. They don’t have government social security benefits to back them up when they are unemployed. No job means no food to feed your family.

  5. VERITAS

    Well written and great thoughts you have, my dear Jedi. You have been what I’d call a “Jedi” in a very corrupt society, where merchants and government officials are in it together to carryout profit-seeking ventures that cause others to suffer, directly and indirectly.

    On a more serious note, I admire your courage and high standard of integrity, not afraid of speaking the truth. You are living in working in a very society where there is little or no respect for IPR. And that has been the permeated problem in their culture. That said, it’s an uphill battle for you and others who respect IPR and business integrity.

    It is very difficult for me, who knows the Chinese mentality and culture well, to see why anyone outside of China would do business in China. Apple for one has been an example of short-sighted company, which allows the quick profits to blind them from long-term problems – big problems. And for that I do not want to spend my hard-earn money on Apple, which has turned out to be just another greedy company.

    As to China, I think the sooner you get out of there, the better for you. Take care and watch your back.

  6. romanicus

    ,lol, no one lost the job, the store is on and gets more business than ever before. The owners are alleging with certainty all the items are genuine, only the store is pirated. LOL again

  7. Padmanabhan

    You have a nice writing style and a good perspective on things. You should quit whatever else you are doing and focus on writing. Or atleast treat it on par with that!

  8. Martha

    well said, birdabroad!

  9. IloveReo

    You do not need to feel bad at all. I understand the reason why you wanted to share this stories with us. I actually enjoy the stories that tell how lively China is.
    Although those who worked for fake stores lost their jobs, sooner or later it would happen.
    Now that China is the world’s second-biggest economy, they need to learn what illegal means.

  10. Wow, I just happened on this blog through WordPress … didn’t realise I’d found the “leak” of fake apple stores in China!

    Obviously to save some face the authorities have relocated the shop owners under the veil of closing them down :) Forgive me for minor scepticism, but come on, we all love the knock offs, be it DVD’s, music, and from what I saw better performing iPhones than released by Apple!

    All the best on your travels.

  11. one

    Don’t worry, fake stores come and go, they will find their new jobs in some other fake Apple stores pretty soon. There won’t be any sort of systematic crackdown on fake stores as long as they don’t start hurting the interests of state enterprises.

  12. scotttech1

    seems like msnbc has picked up on your story and has a video tour of the store, this must be a great feeling to have so much attention over this story

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20083883-248/a-video-tour-of-apple-store-knock-off-in-china/

  13. JD

    Very sweet of you to feel guilty about people losing their jobs. It is an unfortunate bi-product of the truth, but as you stated, the shops were shut down because they lacked business licenses, and not because they were amazing ripoffs. Therefore, personally, I don’t see it as your fault at all!

    Well written and concise as usual. Much love. :D

  14. This is a good example of the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” Had you not written your blog post when you did, some (probably unwitting) store clerks would still be happily vending phony items from their bogus stores.

    What has unfolded is a direct consequence of what you did. How you choose to feel about this is, of course, the result of your own past learning and experiences.

    Now, I wonder if the Unintended Consequences will combine with the “Butterfly Effect” to wreak havoc – or deliver bliss – to this interconnected world we all live in.

    But, hey, that’s just me.

  15. Viridiana Vasquez

    The scam done in the stores is amazing, to be fair I wouldn’t mind spending money in that store it look magnificent. I would feel terrible if I had cost employes there job for a blog post .

  16. I don’t get why people should necessarily be able to afford whatever it is they work on. What about a job like… I don’t know, some kind of manual labor like polishing diamonds. You couldn’t afford diamonds on a manual labour salary. Or construction workers, helping to build buildings all day. Doesn’t mean you should be able to afford a building, right?

  17. There is no excuse for piracy, and it is very prevalent in most of Asia. Pirates see this as legitimate way of earning a living. They are not taught that this kind of activity is wrong. Early education in Chinese schools should be the place to start.

  18. I have more to add, and I am not trying to justify the piracy issue in China. Piracy is wrong. But we attempt to make a living as best we can. I live in New York. For the past two years I have tried looking for a job, the best I can do is part time. I work 6 hours but my boss pays me 3 hours. I clear over $100 but I have to pay $25 my metro card. Why am I not complaining? Because of the job market being over 9% unemployment, I really do not have a choice. Is it right to exploit? No.

  19. I understand you felt terrible about people losing their jobs, but surely the fact that there are many stores out there which are directly violating copyright laws internationally then the jobs really shouldn’t exist in the first place.

  20. trinklet

    Makes me wonder if the Apple reseller store that i saw in Shi shi City, Fujian Province was also fake.

  21. Wow, so they shut down 2 stores for no business licenses. This proves that the Chinese government is not serious about IPR, copyrights or counterfeiting. They were just interested in getting their fees!

    The people who lost their jobs were just trying to make a living and likely did not know it was a fake Apple store. You should not blame yourself for shining a light of truth on what was going on! You did the right thing, unfortunately there was blowback for some workers.

    Your report of the Apple Stores is VERY impressive, You made it to CNN.com. That is pretty amazing!

  22. Peggy Chaudhry

    We would like to use one of your photos of a fake Apple store in China in the second edition of our upcoming textbook, “Protecting Intellectual Property Rights,” — please contact me as soon as possible.

    • Jess

      Hi there,

      If you’d like to use one of these images please contact me at womansworkblog AT gmail DOT com – I’d be happy to talk it over with you.

      Thanks!

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