I would have loved to start by saying there is a huge debate, but alas, that’s not even true. The overwhelming majority of the knife community, just like that of watch lovers, is at least publicly violently opposed to clones/homages/replicas/fakes and argue that this is a theft of intellectual property. A thing that irks me quite a bit, frankly.
Indeed, what is property, why do we have a right to it? Property rights derive from our freedom. Since we are free to act in anyway we want (as long as that doesn’t imply aggression on others) then we are responsible for our actions. This responsibility works for the negative (if we break we need to repair or replace) but also for the positive (what we’ve done is deemed valuable so we could potentially sell that). This responsibility for our actions makes us owners of the outcomes of said actions (provided they didn’t infringe on others same rights to freedom). So far we could perfectly imagine that if we have an idea that comes from us without infringing on others’ rights, then we own it and could sell it, right?
Well, that’s not really the case. First to have this ownership of the stuff to be enforced, it needs to have a price. And ideas, albeit they can be very valuable can’t have a price. Indeed, the price is the numerical value that allows to balance supply and demand for any one thing. To exist we need to have a limited supply of such thing, and it needs to be costly to produce more of the same. In the context of ideas, designs, and all similar concepts, the whole supply is immediately transformed to infinite. Indeed if I have some idea, and I share it with you, I still have it. You may then share it with anyone and soon, without any real efforts, the whole world will have access to my idea. Me included. As the ideas are never scarce, like designs or concepts, they cannot have a price. Or better said they have a price which is ZERO. So stealing zero may be conceived as theft, but then again, it may not. Here lies (or should lie) the debate.
What’s clear is that the ideas for all their zero price and infinite supply (or null marginal cost) originate from someone. Who has borrowed elements from others, who had borrowed… and so on and so forth. So recognizing the inspiration should be done. More because of pure ethics and good manners than out of a philosophical demand or legal obligation, mind you. Academia and research are a perfect example of how that whole stuff should work (and we’re talking things far more important and costly than knifes or watches or designs). I can and will use and publish using other people’s ideas. I will not pay them any money for that (actually I get paid by my university for doing it!) but it is important that wherever my ideas build upon those of others, I pay my dues and quote their work. We often hear that this “piracy” will kill the industry and that good knife makes will stop making new designs, good studios will stop doing new films, artists will stop doing art… is that true? Well, if the academic example is anything to rely on, not in the least. Not only did research not stop when people could use others ideas simply by saying that this was other people’s ideas (and sometimes not even that) but in fact it did grow fast and strong and science advances quicker and quicker all the time.
Chinese knives, then?
Well, they “steal” the designs of known American, Russian, etc. knifemakers but they don’t still anything that has any price, nor do they make them poorer. They obviously change very little in the design or the construction (but they do change stuff, else it would be the exact same knife for 1/10 of the price and who would be called robber, then?) but they actually increase the value of t he “true sources” when these are deserving, and most of the time they pay their dues in terms of author recognition (well, sometimes they mix stuff a bit).
If the knives are well made and good value (they are generally speaking superb value and rather well made), the crime in my opinion would be not to buy them if what you want is just a design, a practical tool. Now if you really want a piece of art, go to the custom makers. What you’ll be paying for will be a set of things that do not include the design (or even the logo): quality of materials, craftsmanship, customization, attention to details, resale value, prestige, bragging rights (I guess nobody will fawn over your Shirogorov clone from HK, when everybody will envy you with the “real deal”).
So enjoy the clones if you want and know that the laws that combat them are based on a bad interpretation of property rights, enforced by the Government’s might they’re a form of robbery (making people pay a non zero price for something that has an actual market price of zero). Enjoy also your “originals” but for what they really offer you (quality, prestige, materials, service…) and stop “defending” the knifemakers (watch brands). They’re not your friends, they’re not on your side… They bargain with you to make you pay as much as possible in exchange of as little as possible. You? Your duty would be to try to get as much as possible for as little as possible…
Live and let live, but enjoy your stuff without judging what others enjoy, that’ll be far more enjoyable for everyone!