The Commerce Ministry misses the whole point about how some foreigners view Thailand as a place where fake goods are widely available
The Thai government’s response to Lady Gaga’s comment about wanting to buy fake Rolex watches in Thailand has backfired. Instead of trying to take action against the producers of fake goods in Thailand, the Commerce Ministry has written to the US Embassy to complain about the entertainer’s comment.
If the Thai government is serious about Lady Gaga’s comment, which the ministry describes as “insulting” and “offensive”, it should instead find out why the American singer tweeted the tongue-in-cheek statement to her fans upon landing in Thailand last week.
In fact, Gaga may end up helping promote the tourism industry with her controversial statement. It’s no secret that many tourists come to Thailand because they’ve heard about “lady markets” and the wide availability of cheap, fake goods.
The ministry’s reaction is knee-jerk, at best. Complaining to the US Embassy about Gaga’s comment will not help the “image” of Thailand. In fact, what the American singer said simply reflects the perception of Thailand that many tourists already have. They have seen the pictures of tourist attractions. They have heard the stories.
Lady Gaga might simply have been telling her fans that she really wanted to buy fake goods in Thailand. Or she may have intentionally been sending a more serious message, not just to her 25 million followers, about an issue of concern to artists. Fashion icons like her might choose to talk about fake luxury watches, but a real issue for international artists is pirated DVDs and CDs. And that may be the issue she wants the responsible agencies to address.
The Intellectual Property Department says it’s trying to control the proliferation of pirated goods in this country, but its efforts are in no way effective. There are still fake goods in markets all over the country, not just tourist areas.
And this issue is not just a Thai problem. Many of the fake items are made in neighbouring countries. China has also been criticised in this regard, and has become notorious as a producer of counterfeit goods.
Instead of blaming Lady Gaga for making controversial statements, the ministry should attempt to tackle the problem by cooperating with the police in prosecuting the producers and vendors. At the same time, it needs to educate consumers about the negative consequences of purchasing fake goods.
Violation of intellectual property rights, in the long term, will only discourage creativity among artists and inventors, because they realise that they may never be fully rewarded for their efforts.
There are also more serious physical dangers that can arise from the consumption of fake drugs or use of fake electronic equipment or machinery. Intellectual property rights thus exist not only to protect international artists like Gaga, but also local artists and all consumers.
The Commerce Ministry simply looks foolish by crying wolf about how Lady Gaga has tarnished the country’s image in her Twitter message. The correct response is to show that Thailand can do better, and can improve its international image, by making a serious effort to suppress illegal activities and protect copyright holders and the public. At the same time, an effort needs to be made to instil greater public awareness of the respect for others people’s rights.
Regardless of the amount of money spent to “improve the country’s image”, the public-relations effort will only ever be as effective as the commitment to uphold the law. And despite its bleating and whining about controversial comments made by visiting pop divas, the government will never be able to disguise the real situation in the country – to either locals or tourists – unless it takes the right action to remedy the problem. Sellers and buyers beware.