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An open letter to Lepin from a frustrated LEGO builder

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

To Lepin,

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.

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Lepin did not contact Jme to request use of his design.

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.

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This is Jme’s build, submitted to LEGO Ideas.

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.

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The box back intends to replicate the LEGO modular boxes.

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.

Yours,

Jme Wheeler

Find some of Jme’s LEGO builds on Flickr, where he goes by the handle Klikstyle.

To buy your LEGO products legitimately, and support the work of Brick Fanatics, visit the LEGO online store here.

LEGO SYSTEM A/S

6 comments

  1. Sébastien

    I couldn’t agree more. What an absolutely despicable and vile company. As hard as they must be to fight in court, I’m glad LEGO are at least making a point to go after them. Fingers crossed for something positive…

  2. Solo7612

    It sucks to be ripped of like this and I sympathize, but my feelings for Lego group bootlegs are different. Unfortunately not because of Lego themselves but because of people that collect it. Quite often I hear from “lego purists” that they’d like for Lego sets to be even more expensive than they are at the moment. And they are quite pricey even now. At least here where I live. At these prices they’re slowly becoming collector’s items, not toys they’re supposed to be. And I guess that’s what these people would like and when it comes to them I’m glad someone is taking them down a peg…

  3. dragontail

    Thanks for writing this long letter, I couldn’t agree more!
    I am extremely sad and angry when my lego buddy ask me to buy lepin with him. That is a huge problem, because people are slowly accepting lepin saying “It is not our fault that buy lepin, is was lego fault for not lowering their price”.

    I am from Malaysia, where Lego scraper are everywhere and lepin have their own facebook page. Try search “lepin malaysia online” and you will see. People are saying is none of my business when they buy lepin. Or buy it for kids, only buy lego when they know how to appreciated. This poison lepin have to go and go fast it must.

    Btw if anyone saw their youtube video posted by unilad or some other content theft, please don’t watch it. Go to youtube and search for that video. Because those theft are doing the same things and seem like nobody care now.

    Sorry for the long rant. Let hope all of this will stop very soon.

  4. B. Picker

    Nice rant. I assume, you feel the same way about Lego themselves? They’ve ripped off Ideas submissions as well, without crediting the designer. Exhbit A: Ghostbusters Firehouse. How is that any different than what Lepin has done here?

  5. newenglanders

    As an artist and former software developer I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, Jme.

    However, the issue you raise is one small part of a much larger negative shift in consumer behavior. Consumers as a whole (including many of us who design for a living) have eroded the value of expertise in fields outside of our own. We’ve also contributed to a tendency to steal, often without recognizing our actions as theft. Based on my observations, we tend to justify our own value while simultaneously diminishing the value of others. We tend to justify our own behavior, while condemning the behavior of others. This relatively recent shift in thought and behavior–over the past 20 years–has eroded the value and profitability of many industries, including entertainment (movies, music and writing), software and yes, even lego design.

    I’ve yet to meet an individual whose behavior (as a consumer) is fully aligned with his rhetoric (as a producer of IP, a citizen and a human being).

    I truly wish we lived in the world you describe. That’s just not the case, and there’s no easy solution. Genuine lasting change would require a seismic shift in public attitude toward value creation and I fear that ship sailed long long ago. Let’s hope I’m wrong about that.

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