Anyone who has ever shopped for a new tarot deck (or oracle, or LeNormand) has definitely come across “fake decks.” What do we mean by fake decks? Yes, a deck of cards arrives in the mail and it definitely is “real,” but a fake deck is one that’s an unauthorized copy.
Those of us living in the US or Canada are perhaps less aware of the absolute onslaught of counterfet commercial goods on the market, mostly because large retailers like departments stores, big box stores, etc do all of the policing for us and that’s where such a large amount of commerce is done where we live. But if you’ve ever lived in or visited Asia, you’d have a much greater awareness of counterfeit goods because it’s everywhere there. It’s in every corner store , marketplace and even department stores. Why? Because copying goods is a major industry in China, employing so many more thousands of people than you might imagine.
Why It Matters
Artists, designers, authors and musicians are selling our ideas. That’s what we do, and that’s what copyright laws internationally are designed to protect. Take the word apart: it means “the right to copy.” Here’s a simple explanation that we all get: If you buy a paperback novel to take home and enjoy, you have bought not only the right to own that physical object (you bought that book) but also the right to read it as many times as you want. You can quote inspiring lines from it to your friends. But you CANNOT make photocopies of every page, bind them, and sell reproductions of that book. You don’t have “the right to copy.” Only the publisher does, and the author. That’s what copyright is. When you hear a “cover” of a famous song? The artist has negotiated permission from the original artist in order to make the cover version into a record. Because the original musician holds copyright. The right to copy.
Why Copy Tarot Cards?
Well, a card deck in particular is super easy to fake. It might be hard to fake a pair of Levi’s …. just think of the equipment and resources you’d need! …. but to copy a little piece of paper (a tarot card) is CRAZY EASY. You just need a high-res scanner and a printer after all. So card decks, and the popularity of tarot and oracle card reading make this an easy target for counterfeiters.
Also? Because as a bad guy, you know damn well you’re probably not going to get prosecuted. The laws are unclear, the lawyers are expensive, the makers are not wealthy as a rule, and sites like Amazon and Etsy frankly have rules that protect the sellers, not the buyers. In the case of bad actors who are sellers, they benefit from that bias and usually get to continue unscathed.
Why The Spotlight on China?
1. Excellence in Printing
One thing that East Asian manufacturers are known for is excellence in the printing industry. Seriously, if you have a really fancy card deck… let’s say one with holographic or gold edges? There’s a 99% chance it was LEGITIMATELY and LEGALLY printed in China. Most indie card makers here in the US send their decks to Hong Kong and China, and also so do most novelty book publishers. The prettiest coffee-table books and pop-up books especially — those kinds of gorgeous books that require extra labor, they’re most often printed in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore or China. These printers can afford the labor, and they have really state-of-the-art equipment. The sad truth is, many of these manufacturers employ bad people who share the files with the bad guys.
Sometimes the awesome printers ARE the bad guys. It’s a mixed bag and you really have to do your research. Large companies literally hire private investigators… that’s an actual line of work. Mind-blowing, right?
In China, especially in places like Shenzhen, copying is a major industry. It’s not frowned upon. It’s not prosecuted by the Chinese government, It’s not a secret. It’s a huge money-maker, and the industry fuels the economy in a way that discourages the government from stopping it, even when the counterfeiting gets ugly, as in that famous case where a Chinese manufacturer was making fake baby formula laced with (cheaper than milk!) melamine…. which is poison. Only because people died and major prosecution took place did that practice get stopped.
Luckily, a new amendment to Chinese copyright law has come into effect as of this year, which is designed to strengthen the protection of the copyright holders being defrauded in that country. One of the key improvements, at least from a small business perspective, is that it removes the “if the case is serious” condition for confiscating and destroying materials, tools, and equipment mainly used to make the infringing reproductions. In other words, even if it’s not a multi-million dollar case, it’s still a case and it the crime still gets the bad guy punished.
Cultural Roots of Copying
Faking other companies’ goods is not considered shameful in China. In fact, before 1982 (with the passing of China’s first trademark law) it was actually encouraged… the Chinese Communist Party believed that the protection of intellectual property promoted evil Western individualism when the best thing for the people as a whole was to share good ideas.
This zeitgeist has deep roots in ancient and sacred cultural concepts about learning: that to really learn, you copy the masters. One of the traditional lessons in Chinese brush painting is “to transmit by copying”. Language supports this, too: in Mandarin the words for “to learn” and “to copy” are basically synonyms. In American culture, where individuality is prized, copying is seen as a form of cheating, but in China, it has traditionally been a a boon for both parties when a student can perfectly reproduce a teacher’s work.
What’s a Small Business To Do?
Well it’s not hopeless, even though as a card maker your plight is literally one person or one small creative team versus a giant industry of multi-billionaires and laws that don’t do a great job of protecting you. With a little bit of knowledge and by taking basic perventative steps, any small business can at the very least DISCOURAGE copying, and ward off counterfeiters. I’d like to use what resources I have found to help other makers do the basics to protect themselves and their creations from those who would defraud them. Send an email or HMU on social if you’d like to dicsuss!
I will be gathering up resources to share on this blog in order to make this knowledge free and accessible to my fellow creatives. Stay strong y’all and let’s protect each other.