‘Tis the Season… for counterfeit goods. - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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‘Tis the Season… for counterfeit goods.

‘Tis the Season… for counterfeit goods.

Get real.  That’s the holiday greeting that the White House is sending eager shoppers hitting the streets, and the Web, in search of the best holiday deals. It’s a sentiment echoed by the countless retailers, designers and manufacturers who lose billions of dollars every year due to the sale of counterfeit goods.

According to a report issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in 2010 ICE seized nearly $1.5 billion worth of counterfeit goods coming into the U.S., and these are only the goods stopped from hitting the U.S. marketplace. The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC) estimates that counterfeiting costs U.S. businesses nearly $200 billion annually. Some of the top items on the government’s list of most seized goods might also make an appearance on your holiday wish list: footwear, electronics, handbags, clothing and jewelry.

So, what’s the big deal about trying to get a good deal? Well, when you do it by purchasing counterfeits you’re helping sustain an industry that is responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs.  You’re funding organized crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking. One Italian organized crime group is reported to get 10% of its profits from the sale of counterfeit goods.  As long as the demand for cheap imitation goods exists, the problem of counterfeiting will continue to grow.

The Naughty List

According to ICE’s 2010 report, China, Hong Kong and Jordan top the naughty list as the three biggest exporters of counterfeit goods into the U.S. They export to U.S. vendors who buy mass quantities of counterfeit product to sell at flea markets or in busy tourist areas like Canal Street.

On Canal Street, vendors stand on the corners whispering, “Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Coach.”  When an interested shopper approaches, they are led through a maze of stores, back rooms and basements before making it to their final destination.  Stacks of fake designer goods line the walls of small rooms.  Shoppers and vendors haggle over prices.  At last, a shopper is led back to the street with their very own Santa sack in hand – a black garbage bag filled with fake designer goods.

For the less adventurous, the Internet has provided another means of buying counterfeit goods.  Now, a quick Google search can put countless counterfeit handbags, jewelry, electronics and apparel right at your fingertips.

In the U.S., the sale or offer for sale of counterfeit products is a violation of federal law and the government is cracking down on infringers.  Last week, the government shut down 150 websites accused of selling knock-off or pirated merchandise.  Now, when shoppers try to visit sites like 100jerseys.com they get this government notice telling them the domain name has been seized by ICE. But there are still tons of sites in operation blatantly selling counterfeit goods.  Because many of these sites are operated overseas, the federal government’s power to take them down is limited.

Designers are also taking their own steps to stop the sale of counterfeits. Last year, Coach sued the city of Chicago for allowing the sale of counterfeit goods at a popular flea market. Retailers like Tiffany & Co. and Rolex have been known to directly go after counterfeiters. Despite these efforts, the marketplace is still filled with counterfeit items; some being sold as such and some being passed of as authentic. Ho, Ho, How to Protect Yourself

Here are some tips to keep in mind when doing your holiday shopping and there’s even a quiz to test what you know.

Products

If your list contains commonly counterfeited products like Tiffany jewelry, Coach purses, Reebok jerseys or Apple iPods, make sure you check it twice.  Is the leather real?  Is the interior finished?  Are there loose strings or mismatched edges?

This fake iPad (left) looks different than the real thing.

Price

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Know the retail value of what you want to buy.  You want to be skeptical of a site that is offering you a $5,000 handbag for $39.95.

Packaging

If the packaging looks fake, the product inside it probably is too.  Designer purses often come in cloth bags.  Tiffany jewelry comes in a signature blue pouch.  Check out the boxes, bags and tags of the product you are purchasing.  Are the colors of the packaging faded?  Does the font look strange?  Is there no package at all?  Are there any holograms or seals on tags?

Place

The best way to ensure you’re buying authentic goods is to buy them from an authorized retailer.  Be aware that some websites will use brand names in their domain name, but have no affiliation with the actual retailer.  For example, pumaoutlets.net was a site selling counterfeit sneakers and had no connection with the Puma brand.

If you are purchasing from auction sites, such as eBay, do your research.  Pay attention to the pictures and the price.  Are sellers covering up certain parts of the merchandise?  Is it being sold at a low buy it now price?  Does the seller have a large quantity available?  All of these may be signs that the product being offered for sale isn’t authentic.  You can check out “About Me” pages of members of the eBay Verified Rights Owners program (VeRO).  Here, trademark owners, such as Chanel and Vera Bradley, offer individual tips for buying their products on eBay.

Lastly, use your common sense.  If something is being sold on the street, it’s probably not real.

While your tree may be artificial, the gifts beneath it shouldn’t be. Best wishes for a genuinely happy holiday season!

 

Emily Condon

Emily Condon is originally from Scranton, PA and on fall Sundays you can find her waving her Terrible Towel at the local Steelers bar. Emily likes running, reading and rap music. Apparently she also likes alliteration. Emily hopes to pursue a career in trademarks and sports.