Have a look at the screenshot of this South Korean website and tell me which British book publisher whose overseas operation you think it represents:
Let me give you a hint. It’s not Oxford University Press. Confused? Well, let’s park that for now.
Next, have a look at this website and tell me which book publisher whose overseas operation it represents:
Ha! That’s not Oxford University Press either.
So, then, what’s going on? Well, let me put you out of your misery. The second website is the one true Cambridge University Press website for South Korea. CUP is the world’s oldest publishing house (dating back to 1534), and one of its most prestigious. Perhaps directly resulting from both attributes, its website is a little dull. Nonetheless, it is functional, clear, and fully integrated with the overall online presence of the company at large.
The first website, on the other hand, belongs to an operation whose official name is Cambridge Co., Ltd., operated by one J R Han. Recently, after some complaints to CUP made by members of whyweprotest.net, the following disclaimer has been added to the bottom of their homepage:
NOTE: Cambridge Co. Ltd. is a Korean company engaged in the business of distributing Cambridge University Press materials. It is a private business and is not part of Cambridge University Press.
Hmmmm. However, you are unlikely to spot this disclaimer, for a few reasons:
- The banner of the homepage continues to splash the “Cambridge University Press” header, with full (and presumably copyrighted) logo and livery;
- The website’s tab title — the text that appears in the title section of the window or tab of the browser — continues to be “Cambridge Univ. Press & 케임브리지(주)“, which when abbreviated (as happens with most browsers) becomes “Cambridge Univ. Press…“; and
- The site’s URL, the ‘root’ of its web address, remains cupkorea.co.kr, with the all important ‘u‘ and ‘p‘ blatantly right there in front of you.
Also, despite the fact that Cambridge Co., Ltd. caters primarily for a Korean-speaking audience, the disclaimer is presented in English only.
Now, all of the above might seem a little random, given that the world is teeming with counterfeit operators of one kind or another. Just about every consumer good imaginable has been knocked off by illicit imitators, keen to make some money from brand recognition while maybe remaining small enough to be ignored by the big-boy corporates.
However, at least two unusual issues arise with Cambridge Co., Ltd.
Firstly, you might think that the real Cambridge University Press would wish to have nothing whatsoever to do with separate companies who imitate their name and use their logo in ways that are likely to generate consumer confusion. But that is not the case at all. CUP are quite tolerant of this entirely separate company’s derivative brand identity. In fact, it turns out that Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Co., Ltd. are actually…in business together.
Yes, indeed. Unusually for what might be seen by some to be a possible counterfeiting operation, Cambridge Co., Ltd. is actually the official distributor of CUP’s English Language Teaching materials in Korea.
The second issue is a bit of a biggie. It turns out that, as well as touting CUP’s English Language Teaching materials around South Korea, Cambridge Co., Ltd. are in the business of promoting Scientology. You know. As in “the Church of Scientology“. Here is the news as carried by the Church of Scientology’s “official media resource” website:
…in May 2010, Bridge Publications, Inc., the publisher of [Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard, introduced Dianetics [one of Scientology’s canonical texts] in partnership with Cambridge University Press Distribution, one of the nation’s largest book distributors…
…Bridge Publications and Cambridge followed this up in December 2010 with a presentation on L. Ron Hubbard and his works to executives and representatives from major bookstore chains…
You can read a copy of the full article here (NOTE: this is a screen-grab version only, and so does not direct your browser to scientologynews-dot-org).
And here is J R Han, the owner of Cambridge Co., Ltd., in his own words:
When we are put in difficult situations, we should be able to find solutions, but unfortunately some people are unable to find answers or escape from their problems so they turn to suicide…I visited [the Church of Scientology’s] headquarters in Los Angeles and I was impressed…by such high quality books.
Now you don’t need me to tell you that Scientology is a somewhat controversial carry-on. You can read more about that on websites concerned with pseudoscience (such as this), brainwashing (such as this), human rights abuses (such as this), cults (such as this), embezzlement (such as this), kidnapping (such as this), harrassment (such as this), jumping off couches (such as this), and general weirdness (such as this). The Church of Scientology say there are benign explanations for the various accusations that have come their way, as can be seen here. But them’s all just websites, of course. Me? I’m sayin’ nothin’.
When this issue was taken up by contributors to discussion forums at whyweprotest.net (an “advocacy-neutral platform within which various grass-roots movements can organize protest initiatives and campaigns“), CUP were quick to respond by stressing the fact that Cambridge Co., Ltd. was an entirely separate operation which “in no way represents [CUP’s] views on religions or religious publications“.
CUP also say that they have insisted that Cambridge Co., Ltd. remove any statement that the Scientology books (really published by Bridge) are being “distributed” in Korea by Cambridge University Press. You can read how all the events unfolded, and their apparent conclusion, on this discussion thread over at whyweprotest.net. There was also a very brief piece in UK magazine Private Eye (on twitter as @PrivateEyeNews)
However, by all appearances, it seems to be business as usual for CUP’s relationship with Cambridge Co., Ltd. This is despite the unseemliness of the latter’s near-counterfeit style of branding, as well as its documented and real – albeit no longer publicly emphasized – links with Scientology.
Remember that Cambridge Co., Ltd. are contracted to distribute CUP’s English Language Teaching materials in South Korea. And what does this mean for CUP? Well, in South Korea, English is a required subject in Elementary Schools, in Middle Schools, and in High Schools. As the country has a population of some 50 million, that’s a lot of schools. In addition, school completion in South Korea is extremely high (the highest in the world, according to UN statistics), and additional out-of-school English language tutoring is also big business. English is also widely taught in university. I guess there’s just a heck of a lot of English Language Teaching books to be sold over there.
And anyway, imitation is a form of flattery, right?
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.