The terms reproduction and fake have, not only online, caused many lively discussions as they are often used incorrectly. We should therefore take a closer look at what they really stand for. It may sound a little harsh, but personal feelings and perceptions are secondary in this case, as the definitions we are talking about are actually strictly separated and defined by laws. So let us have a look at what the law says when it comes to fakes and reproductions, and then let us see what that means for the common collector or reseller.
Every business, manufacturer and product is (or can be further) protected by certain rights, based on laws that offer protection in various ways. To ensure coverage, the business or manufacturer has to officially prove ownership and explain the specifics he requires covered. Commonly, this procedure takes place at an office which represents the area of legislation the business resides in. Depending on the subject, the result can be a common copyright, a registered trademark, a patent on certain mechanics, or a design patent, just to name a few.
Each form of registration has its own features and (depending on use) may also be applicable on an international basis. No matter what subject, they all have one thing in common : they are limited to certain periods of time. Trademarks for example may be registered for a few years only, but their registration period can be extended. International patents on the other hand may only be held for a maximum of twenty years, those can not be extended further.
All registration forms are tranferable, meaning that they can be put into the hands of a subsidiary, a legal successor, or even sold to a different company all together. Transfer or sale has no influence on the remaining duration of such a registration, and the registration period of any given registration form (e.g. a registered trademark) can then be extended by the subsequent owner.
As long as there is a company or other legal successor that signs to take responsibility (and pays the registration fees), everything is okay. But what happens when a company owning some form of registration closes down, leaving no legal successor that could take its place?
And although this procedure works better than blocking a registration forever, it does have its drawbacks. Anyway, up until here we are generally speaking about three basic types of items which are actually pretty much self-explanatory:
But when it comes to former manufacturers long out of business, people often forget (or ignore the fact) that the rights originally protecting an item, brand, trademark or whatever have long expired and are freed for further use (as explained above). Anybody manufacturing an item based on such old examples, even including expired company names and trademarks, is (per legal definition) merely creating a reproduction of an item that was once made by somebody else. And the person in question is legally entitled to do so - simply because he is not breaking any law and the item itself (as well as the reused former trademark) is not protected anymore. As said, that is the legal background; of course people may have different points of view regarding ethics, good sales practice, etc.
And therefore things get much uglier when we take a closer look at the fourth category which includes the other forms of reproductions:
There is however a clear line between legal and illegal reproductions: the intent behind them. In short, somebody wanting to create a legal reproduction would always add enough pointers towards the original creator/trademark owner; an illegal reproduction on the other hand is fully geared towards deceit.
With porcelain items or china there is of course no box or such, leaving us only with the item and the used base mark(s). An item looking like a Sevres/Vincennes item in body, decoration and glaze which also shows a mark that is very similar to a Sevres/Vincennes mark is obviously trying to deceive.
Collectors of items that were once made by renowned companies hate to see reproductions, especially when they are nowadays sold under circumstances that suggest or imply that the item in question is an original. However, generally claiming that reproductions actually are fake or counterfeit is nonsense when it comes to the legal point of such a statement. Of course many online (auction) sites clearly state and enforce a no counterfeit rule - according to the legal terms, meaning that they use the above definitions to verify what can be seen as counterfeit or not.
Now what does that mean for the collector? Based on the active laws, there is no such thing like fake Capodimonte, fake Roseville, or fake Royal Vienna, at least not in context with reproductions created after the expiration of rights once connected to those manufacturers. Hard-line collectors may find this unethical. However, all laws are based on a simple principle: everything not illegal is per definition legal. Period. There is no chance that any given online platform will remove listings containing certain forms of reproductions because these are indeed legal products. A few people may object to this but instantly claiming these items to be fake will definitely not be taken seriously.
And the above leads to another problem/question: can sellers be forced to state that their item is a reproduction? Per definition, no. There is no law that could force a seller to do so as their items are treated as standard products. It is actually up to the seller to state that the item in question is indeed a reproduction, either directly or by mentioning the production period or year (as in "2010 Roseville"). That is one of the reasons why certain listing aids, which allow classifications as reproduction, have no legal relevance and/or consequences. One does not have to classify an item as repro even if one knows that it is one.
It all boils down to the following: there is a legal definition which clearly states that informing oneself beforehand about items one wishes to purchase is actually the sole responsibility of the potential customer. One should be happy about every seller we find that clearly states he is selling a reproduction. For buyers and sellers alike, basic knowledge in an area of interest is vital. In short: caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.
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