In this second installment of our series about businesses impacted by counterfeiting, we talk to Jon Hyers, a business owner who knows first-hand the challenges of dealing with counterfeiters.
As Jon shares with us, reigning in counterfeiters is a continual battle that requires a lot of time, energy, and money on behalf of the business owner. So without further ado, here’s our exclusive interview with Jon Hyers.
In case you missed the first installment of this series, be sure to read our interview with Hannah Park of FreeBelts.
Hi Jon, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m a filmmaker and visual FX artist, who has worked for more than 40 years producing videos for big companies like CRAY and 3M. I am the inventor of Video Projected Virtual Reality, which can be as simple as a Video Projection onto a window on rear screen, and as complex as ¼ acre 3D projections.
You created a highly successful product called Virtual Santa and ME. How did you come up with this innovative product idea, and what is so unique about it?
Virtual Santa and ME is actually a personalized concept that never had a taker, but it’s VIRTUAL SANTA which is the product, and that is window decoration virtual reality. We came up with the product, 7 years after we first started doing video FX for haunted houses, using TVS to show images such as virtual window views and fire in a prop fireplaces, etc. Santa was done after we had made a few ghosts, and it was our first concept for Christmas. What’s unique is that it makes Santa appear to be in your house.
Virtual Santa and ME was embraced by customers and media alike. What are some notable successes your company has achieved?
In reverse order: In 2017, we got licensed by Walmart to sell 12 FX clips with a small video projector. In 2007, I invented a 3D projection process, which has still not been figured out by anyone else. It led to a series of Halloween FX that appear 3D when projected on the ground, but without the need for 3D glasses.
I guess my biggest success has been working for 30+ years with my own company. But a recent success has been the development of a couple of new video projection methods for doing more true holograms in the air with great results. But these have not been developed simply because it’s nearly impossible – or impossible to find money and interested investors. Just inventing does not guarantee any interest.
Unfortunately, counterfeiters have tried to take advantage of Virtual Santa and ME’s success by producing and selling inferior copycat products. Can you share with us some details of this?
Well it is always in England, which is the largest country for sales of my products, outside of the United States. Someone from the UK buys a DVD and then start copying it, knowing that I am 4000 miles away. I try to get help from eBay, and they eventually take their listing down, but not before I lose money.
However, they don’t present me with any recourse for taking the thief’s money rather than giving it to me. My solution was finally to find a company there to make copies legally, sell it, and pay me my cut, and that has worked well for a year. Of course, I never know if I am being paid accurately, and if this company [who I will not name] is also selling in other websites or markets and not paying me.
In what ways has counterfeiting affected your business?
Loss of sales, as someone in the UK is selling copies of my products, and not paying me. Therefore, I am not making sales to the customers of the thief, they are. It’s very simple, actually, as it’s the same manner in which any company loses income to bootlegged items.
On top of this, I have to waste time going after them. The biggest such waste of time can be explained by what happened today. I found one company who has possibly stolen my material, or another producer in the USA. Their eBay UK listing doesn’t show any photos or videos of the “Decoration Video” they are selling, and the reason is simple – it is stolen material.
Nobody, except for someone hiding a product, would try to sell something by text only, and then spend an inordinate amount of text warning people of bootleggers – because they are the bootleggers themselves. I know this as fact, because all such eBay UK sellers I approached in 2017 who eventually showed me images of the video clips, showed me either my own material or Video FX from someone in the USA who I know made them.
Is your product patented and trademarked? If so, has this helped reduce incidences of counterfeiting, or allowed you to take legal action against counterfeiters?
Haha… the material is copyrighted by me, because I made it and can prove that. In terms of registering it, if I had a spare 5 million dollars I could afford to do it for everything I made, but I cannot. Anyway, it would not stop anyone from stealing. Trademarks are also deceptive, because the office just gave a trademark to a virtual santa maker who was not me! They didn’t even search enough to find that Virtual Santa is all over the place and has been for a long time. So trademarks are deceptive in terms of their power and validity.
If you could say anything to anyone who is considering buying a copycat of your product, what would it be?
Well buy it legally, because if nothing else I report cases of theft to Interpol, and would report to the FBI in the US, but so far nobody has stolen it here in the USA. I suggest that they spend a little money, not steal, and realize that stealing videos and duplicating would be the same thing as me stealing from their home or wallet, if that means anything to them.
Do you think enough is being done to help prevent businesses like yours from being counterfeited? Did you receive any advice or support about what to do once you were?
Not a chance. There are too many videos and too many people making copies. I don’t think there’s a good plan in place to deal with it. Or there is, but there’s just too many people to go after.
simplyBrandis a company that endeavors to stop counterfeiting online. Our solution combines blockchain technology, AI, and crowdsourcing to track down counterfeits of our clients’ products online. Do you think that simplyBrand’s solution could help businesses like yours against this problem?
Yes, I certainly think it could help. It appears to work like Google or other search engines in finding counterfeit products. I can certainly understand how it would work, and simplyBrand would likely find counterfeits I am not aware of.
In terms of my specific threat of copyright from the UK, simplyBrand would probably not find these, because the UK eBay bootleggers have hidden all pictures and videos of my decoration video titles from all eBay shoppers in order to hide the fact they are stolen. This encourages shoppers who are desperate for a deal to buy them based on description. I believe only eBay can help with that.
It’s interesting that you mentioned the problem with finding counterfeit goods that don’t have pictures, as simplyBrand’s technology not only tracks and analyzes images, it also can track product data, store location, price, and reviews of counterfeit goods. That means that even counterfeit goods being sold without images can be identified! Considering this, could simplyBrand be a viable solution to your particular problem? simplyBrand could be a solution, but I’d have to try it out and see if it finds any counterfeits on eBay. Of course, I have no idea what counterfeits could be out there that I don’t know about.
Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Check out Virtual Santa, at www.virtualsantaandme.com and watch the videos, it might be new to you.
[All images are the copyright of Jon W. Hyers]
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