Kia Roberts Warren
Growing up in one of the fashion capitals of the world (NYC), I am, admittedly, a bit of a fashionista. I learned at a very young age that if you go down to Canal Street and enter a store looking for a Chanel boy bag that someone will take you to the small back room or a van filled with every designer name imaginable. This is the second oldest profession: counterfeiting. Many consumers believe that these counterfeiters are doing a service because consumers do not want to pay an exorbitant price for the real thing. However, counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.
A counterfeit is a trademark infringement, a manufactured good being passed off as an original under the trademark. This is harmful to luxury brands because their trademark is their business. Luxury brands rely on their trademarks to attract consumers and the brand mark signals to consumers the high quality of their products. Counterfeiting hurts the economy. The United States economy loses up to $250 billion in sales each year and 750,000 jobs lost. In 2015, the EU economy reported a value 9.7% of their total sales every year or $28.7 billion and 363,000 jobs lost.
Counterfeiting is a $600 billion industry and represents 5-7% of total world trade. And, these numbers are only increasing due to modern technology and the Internet. Because consumers can now shop within their own homes, counterfeit sales are on the rise because companies cannot watch the internet 24/7 looking for counterfeit sites  In 2007, for example, $119 billion worth of knock-off merchandise were purchased on the web.
If clothing does not interest you like it does me, just know that more than clothing and handbags are counterfeited. Counterfeits have spread to toys, electronics, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, many of which are sold through legitimate retail stores and websites. These are public safety issues; these counterfeits are made with hazardous materials to the environment and to people’s health. Counterfeit luxury goods, also, have serious criminal ramifications that are not known to most consumers.
Counterfeit luxury goods aren’t just hurting the economy, but promote child labor exploitation, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and even terrorism as well as other civil, criminal, and administrative crimes. A Vietnamese crime gang leader earned $13 million selling counterfeit watches in New York. Children, as young as six, are treated to excessively cruel and criminal treatment. Forced laborers are smuggled into the country with the products to sell them and to place the finishing touches on the goods after getting across the borders. There have been reports of authorities uncovering operations where proceeds from drug trafficking were channeled into counterfeiting and, vice versa, where profits from the sale of counterfeit goods were used to further other illicit operations. The FBI has evidence that the World Trade Center 1993 bombing was financed with counterfeit luxury goods on Canal Street. In 1996, the FBI found that followers of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric who was sentenced to 240 years in prison for plotting to bomb New York City landmarks, had made millions of dollars selling counterfeit t-shirts bearing Nike and Olympics logos.
So what can be done to protect fashion maisons and stop crime? Louis Vuitton employs about 40 lawyers, 250 independent investigators, and spends over $20 million each year to fight counterfeiting of its products. Fashion maisons also turn to MarkMonitor (a corporation that accesses data and detects unauthorized channels and shuts them down) for help. Of course, all of these costs get passed on to the consumer. There are also national laws in place. For example, the U.S. enacted the Lanham Act and Copyright Act of 1976. In France, consumers can be forced to pay a costly fine and possible jail time for owning a counterfeit. This idea is catching on in Italy and Britain as well. The European Union has placed two new regulations dealing with counterfeits. On the international level there is International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC), Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, Anti-Counterfeiting Group, International Intellectual Property Alliance. The World Trade Organization has its members sign the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement.
In 2008, Louis Vuitton sued eBay in a French court. The French court ruled that eBay did not do enough to prevent the counterfeit sales from occurring on the site and eBay was ordered to pay $60.8 million in damages. In a UK court, Cartier and Montblanc were recently granted orders ruling Internet providers to block websites selling counterfeit watches under their trademark. Moncler has recently become victorious in the judicial arena. The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) granted the transfer of 50 domain names incorporating its trademark. In its case against Royalcat (a Chinese company), the Beijing IP Court awarded the maximum statutory damages in a trademark infringement action.
As consumers we have the power to stop the counterfeiting industry. We are hurting ourselves. We have a responsibility to protect ourselves and each other. So, if you see someone considering buying a counterfeit Prada tell them “caveat emptor.” We need to educate each other about where and who are money is going to.
For more info on how to spot a fake, click here.
Kia Roberts-Warren is a 2l at University of Baltimore. She has always had an interest in international affairs. She is interested in private international law as well as international humanitarian law. She is on the executive board of ILS as the Career Development Director and is on the Phillip C. Jessup Moot Court Team.