Bootleggers capitalize on Sochi Olympics

Three years out from the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, the local souvenir markets and shops are already full to bursting with merchandise covered in Olympic symbols, though none of them would win medals for authenticity.

­When Sochi was announced as the home for the 2014 Winter Olympics, it was music to the ears of many entrepreneurs.

A tidal wave of investment promised booming business for everyone, including those who like to cash in with no official right to do so.

Owners of small private hotels who are place the Olympic logo on their gates to attract customers would most likely face fines for copyright violation, and Sochi police say last year they confiscated over 240 items of merchandise which had Olympic symbols illegally applied. This somehow stopped the wave of fake clothes and Olympic badges in Sochi, but the battle is just beginning and Sochi's souvenir stands are full of sporting goods.

Bootleggers, mostly from China and Turkey, have switched tactics. Most of them now carry either “Sochi” or “City of the Future” legends, with logos resembling the Olympic emblem. But officially none of these goods are bootlegs, since they do not carry all the elements which would make them fall foul of copyright law.

After three funny little creatures were picked in a nation-wide televised vote as Olympic mascots it did not take much to inspire the copyright violators to produce their own versions.

And now customs houses are full of unofficial bears, hares, and snow leopard badges.

As full-scale official souvenir sales will not start until later this year, most visitors simply pick what is available.

Despite all the counterfeit frenzy, the organizers seem not to be too alarmed. There are still about a thousand days to go before the big event – plenty of time to set their own Olympic sales record.