Cloning: when it’s good, when it’s okay, and when it’s a complete dick move.

Since we’re all stuck inside and unable to socialise I’ve missed spouting my shit to people who sort of listen, and so have decided to start writing it down for you to read. I’m sorry in advance if you die of boredom halfway through.

Introduction.

Before I get started though, I’m just going to lay out the premise of what I’m trying to do here. There are a lot of topics going around the gear/shooting/airshit community that everyone seems to have a different opinion on, and these often turn into arguments that turn fully grown men (and women, but seemingly less so) into petulant five year olds having a “Nah fuck you” battle.

The purpose of these blogs will be to spark an actual grown up conversation, and maybe help some of the more volatile minds out there realise that there is a shade between black and white. To that end throughout these articles I’m not trying to have a sly dig at anyone, trying to sell you anything or trying to tell you that you’re wrong and I’m right so fuck you and your dog. These are just my honest opinions, and in all honesty I just want to get them off my chest before I turn slightly mad and start telling them to my shower curtain. If at any point you feel I have offended you and need to change what I say, then close this page and get on with your life.

So, boring stuff out of the way, today I’m going to ramble on at you about something which definitely divides the community.

Cloning: when it’s good, when it’s okay, and when it’s a complete dick move.

The Good.

Now I don’t want to start on a low and cause blood to boil prematurely, so we’re going to start with the positive sides of cloning, or “idea borrowing” at least. All new gear arrives as a result of evolution, and I think this is the key to what makes idea borrowing acceptable in my eyes. Look at products like Peltor’s arc rail adapters, and Unity’s MARK kits. In theory, they’re the same thing, they both attach earpro to your helmet. In reality, it’s very clear where Unity got the idea from (being predated by the Peltors for at least a decade in both the tactical and civilian worlds), but they have tweaked and refined the design to the point where it is essentially a whole new concept, even if at its core it still only exists to do the same task. This sort of copying is absolutely fine in my books, if someone is taking a design and improving it to the point of it being entirely different then hard luck original designer, the new guy has got one up on you.

Peltor and unity tactical ear protection arc rail adaptors
The Peltor ARC adapters, and Unity MARK kit.

The Okay.

Contracts.

This slots quite nicely into the next realm of plagiarism, which is is it okay for companies to pretty blatantly copy a design if contracted to? Short answer, yes, in my mind at least. There are two companies that spring to mind on this point, and they’re two companies I endorse pretty heavily. Of all the gear I own the vast majority of it is either made by C2R or Platatac, and it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of what they do. One thing that links them though is the basis on which they produce their goods – contracts. Neither manufacturer is particularly retail focussed, and pretty much everything they make has been requested by someone far cooler than you or I, who probably needs that item a damn sight more than we do. Let’s delve into this a little deeper though, and look at Plat first.

The boys down under are a well known and very large outfit, who make really high quality gear and don’t charge very much for it (not a plug I promise). This is because they’re not making this stuff to sell to airsofters like you and me, but are outfitting actual armies, or fulfilling really specific little quirky requests at high volume costs. I think the easiest to demonstrate example of this are their DAX uniforms, specifically their pants. I’ve already done full write ups on two generations of these items, and when doing the research for these the guys at Plat were very open with the fact that the idea had been borrowed from Crye, but the whole project was requested and guided by input from upside down coolguys who needed it in large volumes and presumably on a budget.

Platatac Mk3 Tac Dax review by the Geardo Crow
Platatac DAX Mk.II Pants.

In my opinion, if there is an important bit of kit that these guys need doing exactly how they want it, and they’re going to be using it to risk their lives on a regular basis, I think that comes before if one company has copied another or not. Similarly, if they desperately need these items and they can’t get it due to prohibitive pricing or import/export laws (*cough fuck you ITAR cough*), then damn right they should be able to get the stuff made closer to home. There are many nations that want to avoid the ballache of accounting for items with third party legislation attached to them and I can’t say I blame them. This isn’t just for Australia though, I imagine someone like Crye has made a product of questionable originality in small numbers on request for the likes of DEVGRU/CAG before now, and I know C2R has done this before, as I have the products to prove it. Which segways nicely into what I think is my last reason why copying can be okay.

Commercial Availability.

I’ve owned enough C2R stuff to know what they’re made of, and they make a lot of bespoke gear for our brew-guzzling maniacs in Hereford often to a very specific need. What they have also done in the past is create items based on an unsupplied demand. Now, I’m making an assumption here, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I would put money on C2R’s infamous flashbang pouches being created because someone liked Crye’s 330d 40mm pouches, but couldn’t get a reliable stock of them. This is also seen with the old gen triple M4 pouch that has done the rounds, as it bears a striking resemblance to a 330d M4 pouch, but tweaked and optimised for a specific use. In both of these cases, 330d pouches while available, are mostly privately owned and collect an exorbitant price when sold. For this reason, if someone creates an alternative/replica to something that the original manufacturer has stopped producing and making money from, but there is still a demand for, then I think that’s okay. The prime example of this would be Molle Monkey Tactical, who makes the best 330d replicas in the game, and who’s 330d thermos fill the ever-widening demand in the market only by picking up the supply that Crye left behind.

c2r fast flashbang pouches

The other side to commercial availability is if that thing you want was never made by the original designer and so they leave you with no choice. This occurs most often when it comes to getting an item in a wacky pattern, like uniforms or specific pouches. I fully support both of these, as for the most part they are done on such a small scale that it doesn’t actually hurt anyone. Using MMT as the example again, I own a 330d Thermo pouch in Multicam Arid. Seeing as the design and the pattern were dreamt up at least a decade apart from each other I doubt you’d ever find a legit Crye pouch in that pattern, and if you desperately needed it then sorry Caleb but I’m going elsewhere. This is also true of the likes of Combat Systems and Roman Kurmaz. Both are well known and highly regarded for their unusual pattern G3 clones, and as Crye is unlikely to ever make these items for the vast majority of us then I’m afraid we have to go with the copied item. That being said, if the legit article ever became available I would do my best financially and geographically to get it, and give credit where credit is due (for instance, I’m currently on the reserve list for legit Crye tigerstripe G3’s as I was only made aware of the order after it had been sent to Crye, and as a result am very excited that Combat Systems are on about doing a run themselves).

So to summarise the situations where I think copying is okay:

  1. You are simply building on a design in a way that genuinely makes it a whole new product.
  2. You’re cooler and more important than copyright law, and you need the gear now.
  3. The original designer simply doesn’t make the thing you want either now or ever, and so a clone is your last resort.

These are the rules I try to stick by when buying gear, as this way the person who put the time and effort into R&D, building and trialling the product gets reimbursed properly. This leads onto the juicy bit.

All my replica gear in a flat lay
Most of my replica gear in one place. A lot of it I only own because the legit article is super hard to come by.

The Dick Move.

When do I avoid buying clones? Whenever I can avoid it, within the parameters of the rules above. Just for transparency’s sake, the list of direct clones I own off the top of my head are: 

  • Combat systems 330d M4 pouches.
  • MMT Arid 330d Thermo and M4.
  • The C2R pouches discussed above.
  • A pretty mad set of Combat Systems G3’s, and a couple of pairs of Roman Kurmaz uniforms.
  • A few Morion Threadworks 330d bits.

All of these conform to the rules laid out above, barring a set of RK MCB G3’s, which I’m always on the lookout to replace as 2nd hand ones are quite hard to come by (rule 3-ish).

What does this mean then? For me there is one very simple and very big no-no with buying clones. I don’t buy stuff that I think exists purely to make profit from someone else’s intellectual property. There are a couple of brands on my shitlist, and I’m sure you can guess at least one of them. 

Warrior Assault Systems.

Now as I said at the start, I’m not here to have a token dig at anyone, but I will lay out why I personally don’t choose to use certain brands. The biggest one, and the one that I’m the most outspoken about is Warrior Assault Systems. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I don’t think too highly of them, and that is largely down to how I see their business model.

I’m sure everyone reading this will have owned at least one thing with a winged skull on it in the past, myself included, and WAS stuff used to have its merits. The biggest ones were my inexperience, and my low budget. WAS has always been the British airsofter’s gateway drug into RS gear, and in the good old days it was relatively inexpensive. You could pick up a second hand DCS with a full pouch suite for under a tonne, and for that price you really did have a well made bit of kit. My issues have grown over the years though, at a similar rate to Warrior’s pricing.

TGC in 2014 dripping in warrior
Me circa 2014. Note the totally not cloned from HSGI pouches and leg rig. Also please don’t mind the paedophillic tree behind me, he was a good lad if a bit… odd.

Why I won’t buy WAS.

The biggest reason that I won’t buy WAS gear anymore is that as I’ve been exposed to more and more high end kit, I begin to see alarming similarities to some of the Warrior bits I used to drool over. For example, the Warrior RICAS, and the Eagle MBAV. Having owned both at one point or another, it is very clear that they are the same rig. Similarly, the Warrior Gen 2 smoke and Blackhawk smoke pouches are twins if not identical.

Finally the Haley Strategic D3CR and warrior Pathfinder chest rig are incredibly similar, aside from the fact WAS have removed the two best things on a D3CR (magnetic pistol pouches and a stuffit). All these combined have led me to put WAS in the same category as Bulldog and Viper, who both produce pale imitations of outstanding products.

side by side comparisons of warrior and other gear brands equipment, showing the similarities of the two
Left: Warrior, Right: HSP, BlackHawk, EI, HSGI, TYR.

The one exception to my opinion of WAS.

Before I get too libelous, I will say WAS has its saving grace. No matter how much I believe they have copied other’s designs, this does make those designs more accessible and more easily replaced. The reason WAS has done so well is I believe thanks to squaddies. There is an unholy amount of Warrior kit used throughout the Army, and most of the guys using it couldn’t give a shit who it was copied off. This is where rule 2 sort of applies.

While WAS has never (to my knowledge) received an Army contract or gone through formal testing of a product, they have helped to push the developments made by other companies to the British front lines through affordable clones of Crye belt kits, Eagle and HSGI pouches and other items. I myself used to run a limited amount of Warrior pouches as I needed to build a decent belt kit that made financial sense (instead of chewing through 3 pairs of Cryes in the spring of 2017, RIP), and the Warrior gear was readily available. However, as I now no longer need replacement gear at short notice, rule 2 no longer applies.

The shit tier.

I think I’ve said enough on Warrior, so let’s move on to the bottom of the pile, the people that I quite simply do not buy gear from unless I absolutely have to. TMC, Viper, Bulldog and the rest of the crap that flat out copies the high end brands and is so brazen about it it’s almost impressive. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who made it this far, but TMC, Emerson etc. have made millions out of never having an original idea and making literal knockoffs just to sell to airsofters. 

TMC 6354do next to a legit safariland 6354do
One of the few TMC items I’ve ever owned, bought at a time when legit 6354do’s were much harder to come by.

It’s not news, but it’s why I don’t buy it. I can’t fault TMC for their recent bump in QC, if you are going to buy Aliexpress clones I hear they’re the best, but for me they’re just not on my radar. As there seems to be no copyright laws in their parts of the world, these companies don’t give a shit and just clone away, taking income away from the companies that put time, money and effort into the design. I’m sure on the big, lifesaving stuff the high end brands don’t really care as they know the guys who really need it will buy the real stuff, but for items like the Spiritus Micro Fight, which is incredibly popular with both the RS and plastic communities, the likes of TMC are taking away a large portion of the market that is rightfully theirs. For this reason I don’t, and I don’t think anyone else should buy from these brands where it is financially sensible to do so.

Conclusion.

And that is the key to all of this, all of the above is just my opinion, based on the situation I find myself in. I’m lucky enough that my income:responsibilities ratio is such that I can spend a little more on my hobbies, but not indefinitely. For instance, I don’t buy all RS parts for my guns, as I simply cannot afford to spend the extra £300 involved on say an Aimpoint to have an optic that is total overkill on my toy gun. The point of this is to start a discussion, either with me, or with yourself. Can you afford to support those who actually put the effort in? Or is that not really something you feel strongly about? Or does the situation you find yourself in simply not allow you to spend your money on overengineered gear that you would use once or twice a month?

For the RS and Army guys who read this, I know I’m preaching to the choir, and if you’re trusting your life to the Chinese gear designed to survive plastic not lead then I’m sorry but you’re an idiot, and you should definitely make the switch. To my fellow civvies, I hope you’ve read this in good spirit and are not currently coming up with a message telling me I’m an elitist and a twat, although if that is your opinion you’re just as entitled to it as I am to mine.

platatac bullock echo mk3 in woodland
Platatac Bullock Mk3 – A clone of an EI Yote, built to contract for some cool people.

I hope everyone has enjoyed at least some of my mad ravings, and if you’d like to read more be sure to let me know and I’ll sit down on another topic. I will say right now though that the one thing I will not be writing about is the pain porn crowd and a certain Stumbling Donkey, my opinions on that are already well versed on Dan’s blog here.

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