Talented fan builder Jme Wheeler recently discovered that knock-off manufacturer Lepin had used his builds as the basis for fake LEGO products, and decided to share this letter outlining why it’s really, definitely, not cool
What you’re doing is wrong.
I would think this would be obvious, but clearly that isn’t the case. It’s obvious neither to you, nor is it obvious to your customers. Apparently, both of you feel entitled to other people’s work. You feel that you have a right to copy the designs of others, and that because there is a demand in the marketplace, you have a right to fulfill it. I want this to be very clear – you don’t.
For years now, you have been stealing the LEGO Group’s products. I’m not simply talking about producing building bricks. You are free to do so, and if you did so responsibly, there would be no problem. You steal their branding, their designs, IP, and advertising. You do everything you can to look like a legitimate LEGO product.
As a company, Lepin, you take it upon yourself to provide copies of LEGO sets at a cheaper price. Your customers see this as a good thing. It means they can get current, or even retired sets for much less than the asking price, which in their eyes is ‘too high’. That difference in cost is facilitated by your moral bankruptcy. Of course you can provide a cheaper version when you pay not for the licensing, design, branding, marketing, nor research.
I agree that aftermarket prices for retired LEGO sets are more often than not completely ridiculous. That isn’t the LEGO Group’s fault. That is the fault of opportunists, not so different from yourself, preying on those who were unable to purchase a set when it was available. I also understand that there is still a demand for these sets. The LEGO Group has no responsibility to keep sets in production in perpetuity, or to re-release old sets. Would it be great if they did? Absolutely. Are they obligated to, simply to satisfy rabid consumerism? Absolutely not.
The vileness of your practices is only getting worse, as you’ve now decided it isn’t enough to steal from another company. You’ve decided to apply your brand of thievery to the LEGO community at large. I recently read about a Lepin ‘CREATORS’ set, which is an exact copy of the ‘Barnes & Noble and Starbucks Store’ Ideas submission by wooootles. I was disgusted. How could someone even consider doing such a thing? Also shown was the back of the box, and there were many more stolen designs, including my ‘L. Rivendell Museum of Natural History’. My heart dropped into my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, looking at a build I had spent over a month on, being produced by a bootleg toy company. Someone else had taken my design, without my permission, and is selling it for a profit. You. You did that.
This type of theft doesn’t just hurt TLG, or individual builders like myself and the others you’ve wronged. It hurts the building community as a whole. There are so many amazing builders out there. There are so many people out there creating beautiful, inventive, funny, and surprising things. I’ve met a lot of really tremendous people through my experiences with LEGO. I’ve been given an incredible chance to interact with other builders through Blocks magazine, as well as at conventions or with my LUG. I even met the love of my life through this hobby. All of those opportunities only existed because there is a vibrant community of people sharing their work with each other.
If you continue to steal people’s art, to capitalise on their hard work and ingenuity, then eventually people will stop sharing their work. People will cease to be inspired by one another. An incredible community would be destroyed. Without creative people and their ideas, there is nothing for you to steal. There is nothing for your customers to consume.
You clearly see value in what the LEGO Group, and builders like me bring into the world. Curiously though, you seem to see no value in we who make it possible. You could have contacted any of us, we’re not hard to find. You certainly found our work. You could have offered to license our designs (though I still would have declined because your business practices are utterly reprehensible). You could be a legitimate company. Instead, you choose to simply build your fortune on the work of those around you. It is both lazy and deplorable, and I sincerely hope one day karma catches up with you.
Find some of Jme’s LEGO builds on Flickr, where he goes by the handle Klikstyle.