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Northumbria University Professor awarded £79,000 to research the growing influence of social media on counterfeiting

A Northumbria University professor has been awarded £79,000 by the British Academy to continue her internationally recognised research into how social media is fuelling the market for counterfeit goods.

In collaboration with the UK Intellectual Property Office, the funding will be used by Professor Dr Xuemei Bian to deliver research project Trademark Infringement and Social Media – A Collaborative Approach.

The award is one of 20 just announced by the British Academy for established UK-based researchers, with the aim to facilitate partnerships between researchers and organisations and businesses in the creative and cultural, public, private and policy sectors, to address challenges that require innovative approaches and solutions.

Trademark infringement, such as counterfeit goods, has become a significant and impactful economic phenomenon. The global value of trade in counterfeit and pirated products has seen an unprecedented increase in recent years and is worth half a trillion US dollars a year. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (2016) estimated the value of counterfeit and pirated products in the global market, in 2013, accounted for 2.5 per cent of world trade.

Professor Dr Bian, Head of Marketing Subject Group, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, said: “This is a very exciting project as it allows me to work closely with the UK Intellectual Property Office and, as such, the findings are deemed to inform practice and open new avenues for future collaborations among stakeholders in this very important area.

“Various anti-counterfeiting measures, including diligent legal litigation, are often implemented to combat counterfeiting. Nevertheless, it continues to thrive, fuelled by the increasing volume of counterfeits on social media platforms. 56,769 active accounts promoting counterfeits were discovered on Instagram in 2019, an increase of more than 171% compared to three years prior. With 45% of the world’s population now active social media users who would be likely to make purchases from social media networks, counterfeits on social media platforms pose a greater risk than ever.

“This British Academy funded project will specifically look at social media influence on consumers and trademark and will also have a strong collaborative approach including a symposium in June, which will be used to stimulate debate and encourage wider collaboration for a workshop later in the year, at which findings from the research will be revealed and disseminated. Both events will be held in Newcastle and delegates will be from disciplines such as marketing, brand management, criminology, public policy, academia, social media platforms, online retailers, not-for-profit organisations and Government agencies.”

On the awarding of the project, David Humphries of the UK Intellectual Property Office, said: “Counterfeits on social media impose new challenges because they are more difficult to identify and trace. Research on counterfeit related trademark infringement and social media has developed over the past 15 years since the era of social media started, thus justifying a review of the literature that takes stock of what is known about counterfeits and social media and what is still to be discovered. This project also presents a well-thought dissemination plan to ensure the review outputs will serve as a roadmap of trademark infringement research and will be used to inform policy-making and shape anti-counterfeiting strategies.”

Dr Xuemei Bian is professor in Marketing at Northumbria University and is the Head of Marketing Subject Group and Convener of Behaviour, Branding and Digital Insights Research Group. Prior to joining Northumbria, she worked for a number of universities, including University of Kent, University of Nottingham and University of Hull. She has an undergraduate degree in International Business, an MSc in Management Research, and a Ph.D. in Marketing. Her Ph.D. thesis focused on consumer decision-making strategies concerning unethical/illegal counterfeit products and was supported by the Retail Organisation.

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