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Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or currency is more often called counterfeiting. But consumer goods may also be counterfeits if they are not manufactured or produced by the designated manufacture or producer given on the label or flagged by the trademark symbol. When the object forged is a record or document it is often called a false document.
This usage of "forgery" does not derive from metalwork done at a forge, but it has a parallel history. A sense of "to counterfeit" is already in the Anglo-French verb forger, meaning "falsify."
A forgery is essentially concerned with a produced or altered object. Where the prime concern of a forgery is less focused on the object itself – what it is worth or what it "proves" – than on a tacit statement of criticism that is revealed by the reactions the object provokes in others, then the larger process is a hoax. In a hoax, a rumor or a genuine object planted in a concocted situation, may substitute for a forged physical object.
The similar crime of fraud is the crime of deceiving another, including through the use of objects obtained through forgery. Forgery is one of the techniques of fraud, including identity theft. Forgery is one of the threats addressed by security engineering.
In the 16th century, imitators of Albrecht Dürer's style of printmaking improved the market for their own prints by signing them "AD", making them forgeries. In the 20th century the art market made forgeries highly profitable. There are widespread forgeries of especially valued artists, such as drawings originally by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and Henri Matisse.
A special case of double forgery is the forging of Vermeer's paintings by Han van Meegeren, and in its turn the forging of Van Meegeren's work by his son Jacques van Meegeren.
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England and Wales
In English criminal law, forgery is defined by the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 as "mak[ing] a false instrument, with the intention ... to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person’s prejudice". The maximum penalty for committing an act of forgery is ten years imprisonment.
Before the invention of photography, people commonly hired painters and engravers to "re-create" an event or a scene. Artists had to imagine what to illustrate based on the information available to them about the subject. Some artists added elements to make the scene more exotic, while others removed elements out of modesty. In the 18th century, for example, Europeans were curious about what North America looked like and were ready to pay to see illustrations depicting this faraway place. Some of these artists produced prints depicting North America, despite many having never left Europe.
In popular culture
- The 1839 novel by Honoré de Balzac, Pierre Grassou, concerns an artist who lives off forgeries.
- The Orson Welles documentary F for Fake concerns both art and literary forgery. For the movie, Welles intercut footage of Elmyr de Hory, an art forger, and Clifford Irving, who wrote an "authorized" autobiography of Howard Hughes that had been revealed to be a hoax. While forgery is the ostensible subject of the film, it also concerns art, film making, storytelling and the creative process.
- The 1966 heist comedy film How to Steal a Million centers around Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) attempting to steal a fake Cellini made by her grandfather.
- The 1972 novel by Irving Wallace, The Word concerns archaeological forgery, the finding and translation of a supposed lost gospel by James the Just, close relative of Jesus Christ, as part of a large project to be published as a new Bible that would inspire a Christian revival, but which is possibly a forged document.
- The 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg, is based on the real story of Frank Abagnale, a con man who stole over $2.5 million through forgery, imposture and other frauds, which are dramatized in the film. His career in crime lasted six years from 1963 to 1969.
- The graphic art novel The Last Coiner, authored by Peter M. Kershaw, is based on the exploits of the 18th century counterfeiters, the Cragg Vale Coiners, who were sentenced to execution by hanging at Tyburn.