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A fake 'copyright agent' who instructed a 15-year-old Thai girl to make cartoon character krathong floats and then tried to extort her for alleged copyright infringement is watching his plan backfire spectacularly. Not only is a warrant out for his arrest but the publicity generated by the scam has massively boosted demand for the girl's products, which help finance her education.

Loi Krathong is an annual festival celebrated in Thailand and some neighboring countries during which ‘krathong’ (decorated baskets) are floated on a river. These beautiful items are often made by locals looking to generate relatively small sums to help support their families and in some cases fund their education. Sadly, there are others who see the creations as an opportunity to generate cash for themselves in an entirely more sinister fashion.

According to local media reports, earlier this month a 15-year-old girl known as ‘Orm’ or ‘Orn’ (we’ll settle on the former) was contacted on Facebook by a stranger who placed an order for 136 krathong floats. The order carried specific instructions for them to be adorned with faces of cartoon characters owned by Japanese company San-X. When Orm took 30 completed floats to a local mall, at the request of a supposed “copyright agent” she was reportedly arrested by police for ‘copyright infringement’. She was told to pay a fine of 50,000 baht, around US$1,650, a figure that was later negotiated down to 5,000 baht, US$1,650, by her grandfather, a former policeman. “After receiving the order, I made krathong baskets from 8am to 1.30am the next day so that I could fill the order, only to be arrested,” Orm said. “Normally I do not make any basket with a copyrighted character. This customer stressed they wanted copyrighted characters. After being arrested I cried all night because I have never faced such legal action before.”

The action against the teenager provoked outcry in the community after the chief of a local police station said it had worked with the ‘copyright agent’ on the sting operation, Bangkok Post reported. However, all was not what it seemed. TAC Consumer PLC, which represents San-X, issued a statement stating that it had not participated in the operation against the teenager and had assigned one of its lawyers to the case. But worse was to come. After news of the scandal spread, other victims of the scam came forward, saying they too had been arrested and settled for even larger amounts having borrowed the money from family members. They identified the ‘copyright agent’ as the same man who targeted the teenager.