As belt buckle values have increased, the number of modern fakes and replicas entering the market also grew. Today, there are many known fakes that use designs from belt buckle manufacturers Tech Ether Guild, Baron Buckles (BBB), Bergamot Brass Works, and other companies.
Click here to read Part I of this series on fake Tech Ether Guild belt buckles.
Counterfeiters attempt to profit off of the commercial success of other companies and artists by stealing their designs and duping collectors. Despite being an illegal and unethical practice, I think these buckles have a place in the economic story of the belt buckle industry. As the old saying goes, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," and counterfeiters often target the highest quality and collectible belt buckles.
Copyright Laws & Belt Buckle Artwork
You may notice a copyright mark "©" on a belt buckle near the name of the manufacturer or with an artist's signature. The U.S. Copyright Office says that a copyright is:
"...a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
Copyrights typically take effect as soon as artwork is created without requiring any registration or special paperwork. A trademark is similar to a copyright, but rather than protecting artwork, it protects a brand or logo. This means the artwork on belt buckles is protected by the artist and can't be legally copied or used by other companies without permission. However, many "fake" belt buckles that rip-off or copy designs will be manufactured in China or other countries that don't enforce U.S. copyright laws.
Licensing & Counterfeits
Belt buckles that feature copyrighted or trademarked material have to be produced with permission from the owner. Merchandise that uses content from movies, books, and musicians all has to be produced with permission of the owner, and usually some form of compensation like a royalty agreement. For example, the Basic Tool & Supply Co. (BTS), which began manufacturing belt buckles in the early 1970s, created a series of five unique belt buckles for the Star Wars franchise. They were sold on countertop displays like the one shown in the photo to the left.
The photographs below shows an example of the licensed belt buckle with appropriate trademark and copyright markings. The reverse side of the belt buckles were marked with both the manufacturer's name and the (then) owner of the Star Wars franchise, 20th Century Fox.
Here is an example of a fake Star Wars belt buckle (photographed below) that was reproduced without permission. Note that the reverse side of the fake has no markings and much weaker construction, with a thin loop and prong. The legitimate buckle is also marked solid brass while the fake is made from a plastic that is plated to look like metal. When held, the fakes are much lighter than the originals because the plastic is less dense than brass.
Reproduction VS Fake Belt Buckles
The word "reproduction" has a negative connotation, especially among collectors, and is sometimes incorrectly used as a substitute for the word "fake". A reproduction is different from a counterfeit because the manufacturer is either (1) the owner copyrighted material, (2) has permission of the copyright holder, or (3) the copyright has expired and the material became public domain. Reproductions are usually less valuable than originals, though, so it is still important to be skeptical. If you're shopping and uncertain about what you're buying, don't be afraid to ask the vendor any questions you might have about the age or authenticity.
Want More?-- Follow us on Twitter --
~Telling stories through belt buckles~
Trivia, Art History, Film & TV, Americana, Vintage Fashion, Hippies, Pop Culture, Cowboys, more...
About the Author:
Brock Lane has an MS in Applied economics and operates multiple shops on Etsy, eBay, and Shopify. He maintains an inventory of over 10,000 rare and unique belt buckles, leather belts, and other goods. He leverages his sales history and professional background to write about trends in online retail marketplaces. Brock is an eBay affiliate and earns commission from linked products & shops.
Learn more at: www.beltbucklehistory.com
Shop for vintage belt buckles on Brock's Etsy Shop
or at Brock's eBay Store