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Anti-Counterfeiting Group Has Students Create Counterfeit Blog To Explain Why Counterfeiting Is Bad

from the it's-bad,-y'see dept

Slashdot points us to the story of how Hunter College agreed to create a "sponsored" class with money from the industry group the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) where the students were required to (irony alert) create a counterfeit blog by a counterfeit student to try to get across the message that "counterfeiting is bad." Well, actually, to clarify, the message that was supposed to get across was: counterfeiting brand name products is bad -- creating a counterfeit blog pretending to get that message across is so wonderful that the IACC even bragged about it (pdf) on its website.

The more details you read, the worse the story gets. The head of the department basically forced an untenured professor who had no knowledge of marketing or PR (he taught computer graphics) into leading the course, and it was made clear to him that he had no ability to question the "curriculum" that the IACC gave him. There appeared to be no questioning of the ethics of creating a fake student with a fake story about a lost brand name bag. To get attention for the blog, the students created posters and flyers they hung around campus promising a $500 reward for the return of the non-existent bag. Of course, the blog posts on the fake blog then told the story of how someone gave back the bag and got the reward... only to discover that the bag was counterfeit.

There are a ton of ethical questions raised by this, from pushing the students to lie to pressuring an unqualified professor to lead this class to taking curriculum notes from an industry association. Even worse, the lesson the students got out of the class (while being exactly what the IACC wanted) aren't true. The IACC proudly reports that students gave feedback like the following:
"In this class, I have learned that counterfeiting entails a whole lot more than I ever could have imagined."

"I've learned that counterfeiting is a lot more widespread than I had originally thought."

"I was definitely one of those people that didn't really think counterfeiting was a big deal."
Of course, there's just one problem: studies by both the GAO and the OECD have both shown that counterfeiting really isn't that big a problem and that the industry regularly exaggerates the problem. Of course, the students in the class probably didn't get to see either of those reports -- both of which would seem rather relevant to a class on counterfeiting. Of course, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Anti-counterfeiting lobbyists last year somehow convinced the Toronto Star to write an entire advertorial section masquerading as news reporting about how awful counterfeiting was. So, perhaps they figured if they can trick an entire editorial staff into parroting its message, why not a college class as well?

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