How to Spot a Pirate

What’s wrong with this picture?

The answer is that these are a brand of construction toys from China called “Enlighten.” No, they’re not LEGO® brand building bricks. What’s the difference between Enlighten and construction toy brands that advertise themselves as “compatible with the leading brand,” such as Mega Bloks, Best-Lock, and Tyco? These latter companies all design and sell unique sets with distinct figures, while Enlighten manufactures almost-exact copies of LEGO sets with direct copies of the LEGO minifigure. Bear in mind that set designs are copyrighted, and that the LEGO minifigure is trademarked. In other words, Enlighten products are illegal.

So, pirated pirates? Yes indeed. To spot the differences, note that LEGO never produced chrome cutlasses, chrome flintlocks, brown rifles, yellow parrots, or wizard beards that don’t cover the minifig’s mouth. Of course, most Enlighten boxed sets we’ve seen aren’t labeled “LEGO,” so that makes spotting the pirate a bit easier.

If you’re traveling overseas and see some “cheap LEGO,” make sure you’re not buying illegally copied sets.

There, I’ve said my piece. Head on over to the Minifig Customization Network for an ongoing discussion.

23 comments on “How to Spot a Pirate

  1. Mike

    I don’t think this type of copying is illegal in China. Copyright protection is completely foreign to the Chinese legal system.

  2. Nannan

    I’m in China right now, I’ll try to pick up one of these clones just for fun. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. hippotam

    In Poland, we had a flood of ripoffs branded “BELA”. Our club fellow Saabotaz picked up some technic clones and compared to the lego originals.

    Here is the blog post:

    And here is in-legth comarison

    The fun part begun when he tried to sell clones he picked up and named the auction as “Most horrible BELA bricks”. You can imagine how mad the BELA dealers were :-)

  4. RichardAM

    Without meaning to sound racist, this is pretty unsurprising as electronics and entertainment companies lose millions every year because of piracy in China, though all the same it’s a problem becoming more pronounced in other areas too, as this post (and original thread) suggests.

    Granted it’s illegal because of copyright issues, but on a more creative thinking level, what’s the difference between this and customisation of Lego pieces and figures? Both Enlighten and customs are a defacing of the original product afterall, with customs often being for purchase and the making of money.

  5. John

    “what’s the difference between this and customisation of Lego pieces and figures?”

    Well, when you customize a figure, you’ve paid Lego for the piece, or, if buying used, Lego has at some point been paid for the piece.

    That said, I agree with Mike when he stated that it isn’t necessarily illegal. It’s only really illegal if it’s actually illegal in china. Now, it would be illegal if you sold them in the US.

    And, *that* said…

    That wizard beard *rocks*.

  6. Derek

    Actually, Lego did make yellow parrots. As far as I know, however, they didn’t have printing on them.

  7. John

    @Nannan: I meant to add, be careful if you’re bringing them back to the US. While the item may not be illegal in China, it is illegal in the US (I still don’t think it’s fair to call the item illegal generally speaking) and it may be confiscated. They do with watches and DVDs, but I’d bet that toys go under the radar. But maybe not. YMMV.

  8. Gambort

    Actually, I’m pretty sure these are illegal in China too. China are WIPO members and must respect international copyright treaties. Enforcement of the law is an entirely different matter. As an interesting historical note the wholesale breach of IP laws has a precedent: the USA in the late 19th century copied European IP at a large scale which helped kickstart its domestic IP industry.

  9. John

    For some reason, I was thinking China wasn’t part of WIPO =)

    Probably their rampant piracy =)

  10. Armothe

    Actually, the LEGO minifig is not trademarked and never was. It was, however; at one point patented which has long since run out. Each LEGO accessory and brick has its own patent as well. As for the sets themselves they have a copyright (which only extends so far).

    Cloning an exact set is pretty shady but several companies have already been producing their own similar minifigs for awhile now.

  11. Dunechaser Post author

    From the footer on

    “LEGO, the LEGO logo…the Brick and Knob configurations, and the Minifigure are trademarks of the LEGO Group.”

  12. Enlighten

    I don’t think enlighten bricks are illegal. I own quite a lot of sets and many others do. The enlighten bricks are value for money, cheap, durable, make with good plastics and its accessible for both rich and poor students. Enlighten bricks is totally different product and target segments as compared with Lego. Customers are going for value. If Enlighten bricks cannot provide such value, then I don’t think so many people around the world are collecting it, including me. It is totally legal in China and many other countries as well, only certain countries try to make “Enlighten bricks” illegal. In some way, Enlighten bricks are creating its own design, pattern, and even the face structure.

  13. Tommy Lee

    I heard somewhere that more than 54,000 Enlighten products were destroyed.It could harm children with its poor quality of plastic.

  14. Jamie

    Yeah, I heard about it too. Apparently lego had a lawsuit and the company won by default because the defendant failed to show up. I guess it looks bad to show up to defend for a “pirated” product. Imagine the media having a field day and will definitely bring the reputation down a notch.
    But seriously…are the Enlighten Bricks really that bad as claimed to be?

  15. Karl

    interestingly enough almost all of the “Sluban” kits, including the ones pictured above by Legodude are not LEGO pirates, but pirated copies of “Oxford” brand toys. Oxford is a Korean company that, while it is clearly influenced by LEGO and is LEGO compatible, has an extensive line of it’s own designs, and it’s own style of minifigs. Their sets are all unique from LEGO, and with the exception of some possible Harry Potter knockoffs, they don’t have any real trademark violations.

    Oxford kits are not available in the U.S., but companies such as Bestlock, and others (who probably get their products through Sluban) market knockoffs of Oxford products. It’s almost like seeing a company pirate MegaBlox kits.

    As for Enlighten, almost all their products (except for thier military line, and certain other sets) are pirated LEGO Clones that defy any reasonable interpretation of international copyright laws.

  16. larry marak

    My experience with Enlighten is that usually one element in the build needs to be replaced with a Lego counterpart to complete the build. Their military designs are high quality, and Enlighten is now copied by Kazi, Little White Dragon, Ligao, and several other PRC cloners (Enlighten is Hong Kong, separate jurisdiction). They produce a number of unique and useful elements and don’t use stickers, so at this point some of their products are superior to Lego in quality (Lego is downgrading to stickers). They do produce a lot of copies of Lego, mega block, and Bandai sets.

  17. Sherry

    I don’t know about the legality issue, but I can say that the Enlighten Bricks are just great! I just bought 2 sets for my son, the army barracks set and the jeep, and both are of high quality. I was very impressed by them, and intend to buy more. I also got a tank made by Sluban to go with these, but it is quite inferior in quality: blocks don’t stick together so well, sort of like the Mega Blocks. If anyone is interested, these sets are readily available on eBay. True, the shipping is as much or more than the product, but still the total is the same or less than buying a Lego set in the US. So if I can get the same quality for less, of course I’m going to buy it. I don’t really care whose name is on the box.

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