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Ethics and RC — Clones, Bootlegs and Ripoffs

We all understand that stealing is wrong. While plenty of people still do it, for the most part, we all can wrap our heads around concepts of rightful possession and wrongful left. These aren’t not hard concepts to comprehend. Yet, almost weekly, I see someone taking to Facebook to call out a thief. Most of the time it’s a person-to-person deal gone bad, but sometimes it’s a grab and dash from a hobby store. And, because we all get that stealing is wrong, we rally behind the wronged party. Interestingly, when the subject of clones recently came up in a Facebook group dedicated to crawlers and scale, the crowd was surprisingly split. Well, it was surprising to me, at least. To say the sentiment was split implies it was divided 50-50. I didn’t do an official count, but the positive endorsements of clones might have actually outweighed those crying foul. I am firmly in the latter group and unashamedly get right on my high horse when the subject comes up. Even when it’s not illegal or worth the legal cost in time and money, I believe, at the very least, clones are unethical and bad for the hobby. The quick and dirty summation of my position on clones is that it’s theft. It’s theft of intellectual property.

Unique ideas and concepts are worth something. That’s why we pay for them. Not paying for them is simply stealing. If ideas and concepts are worth something, certainly actual designs are too. Stealing the entire design of an RC platform is, undeniably, stealing and it happens in RC. The most common vehicle cloned in RC is probably HPI’s 5B. Back when it was first released, this expensive 1/5-scale gas-powered off-roader quickly earned a cult-like following and spawned an entire sub-industry of aftermarket companies. Then out came the 5B clones. You can read more about clones here. Again, the bottom line is cloning a product is theft. HPI has faced some tough times financially and there’s little doubt having one of its flagship products repeatedly ripped off didn’t help.

This is a clone Salvas MUDboss body.

RC vehicles, as mentioned above, get cloned all of the time and I thought the subject was basically old news. Thanks to Facebook groups and Marketplace, however, I’ve seen some new clone offerings–specifically RC bodies. Companies that offer back pours of Lexan bodies have been around for years. Sometimes these are copies of current bodies and sometimes they copies of discontinued bodies. Either way, it’s stealing someone else’s design. It’s legally and ethically wrong. Most companies just don’t have the resources to fight it.

And this too is a clone MUDboss body.

Another copy I’ve seen lately are the bootleg versions of the Salvas MUDboss bodies. I’ve seen multiple companies offering an “exact clone.” That’s their words. Yes, they openly admit their product is a ripoff right in the their product description. Again, let’s be clear because there seems to be some confusion. What is wrong here is making an exact copy of someone’s product. No one is saying any company can’t make an Eastern Dirt Modified body. Plenty do. That is 100% okay, but copying the Salvas design and marketing it as a MUDboss body is wrong. Back in the peak of touring car racing the go-to body was, of all things a Dodge Stratus. Literally everyone ran a Stratus. Every manufacturer came out with their version of the Stratus. Key words are “their version.” That is 100% okay and part of the competitive market. What wouldn’t be fine is doing a back pour of another company’s Stratus design. Another example from back in the day, is the Street Spec class. We were required in this spec class to use official Street Spec tires with their easily identifiable white stripe. Someone else’s lookalike copy of these tires is not only stealing, at least in my book, but it’s also bad for the class. According to the MUDboss rules, you are required to run an official Salvas MUDboss body. It’s a pretty difficult rule, however, to enforce. It really can’t be on the race tracks to police this. It has to be on us, the racers. Salvas has tried to combat the clone trend by including stickers designating a body as official and the latest versions of the official MUDboss have an “S” on each A-pillar. But, there are already a lot of bodies in circulation that don’t have a sticker or marked A-pillar. Salvas is fighting an uphill battle.

1/5-scale buggies and dirt oval bodies aren’t the only products in RC being cloned. Transponders get cloned too. If you race, these expensive devices are a necessity, but they can make racing multiple classes a budget buster. This has made cloned transponders pretty appealing. The cost may be high on genuine transponders and that certainly makes it temping, but does that make cloning right? I know I was once tempted because of the cost savings and also because I could get multiple transponders with the same number. While I sincerely felt genuine transponders were overpriced, I couldn’t pull the trigger on the bootleg product.

So, what’s your take on clones in RC? Are they ripoff or not really a big deal?

If the opinions in this commentary upset you or, more specifically, if you somehow believe merely expressing and sharing the opinions in this commentary negatively impact the hobby please read:

Debate vs. Negativity in RC

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