Counterfeit goods are fake products being sold as originals or the unauthorized sale of top brands. Often, the fake products are made in other countries where the counterfeit law is lax. The products very commonly sold as counterfeit goods are women’s accessories and clothing, shoes, electronics, DVDs, and even valuable artwork.
Difference between Counterfeit and Knock-Offs
The term “knock-off” is sometimes interchanged with counterfeit although there is a difference
between the two. A knock-off is a copycat product or a lookalike that does not carry a brand’s name. It is not illegal to buy a knock-off. The counterfeit product, on the other hand, attempts to deceive the buyer into thinking he or she is buying the authentic brand at a lower price. With advanced technology, anything can be copied deliberately with the purpose of fraud and deception and it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between the original and the fake product.
The Laws on Counterfeit Goods
The law leans heavily on the manufacturer and distributor of counterfeit goods. Buyers, provided they do not buy in volume, are generally not held liable if they can prove they did not know the product was counterfeit. However, the law differs per state. Also, it is possible to sell counterfeit services by pretending to be part of a service brand like a service center.
There are 3 major laws on the sale of counterfeit goods:
Anti-Counterfeiting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) – Vendors of counterfeit goods are criminally liable and will be charged with trafficking of counterfeit goods (or services). The ACPA focuses more on catching fake software or computer programs and DVDs.
Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act – This law centers on anyone who attaches the label of a well-known and highly respected brand on a product that is clearly inferior and fake.
Trademark Counterfeiting Act (1984) – It is illegal to sell anything using the trademark of a company without the company’s written permission.
Then there are the laws on bringing in counterfeit goods from other countries and across international borders. When this happens, the charges will be complex and include smuggling and conspiracy aside from counterfeit laws.
The consequences of being caught selling counterfeit goods range from 5 to 10 years jail time, a fine of up to $500,000, confiscation of goods and machinery used to manufacture the goods, and deportation if committed by a non-US citizen.
Common Questions about Counterfeit Goods
Who do I call if someone is copying my product?
If you think there are counterfeit copies of your product, contact the state authorities and a criminal attorney who can help you establish an infringement case.
Are counterfeit products bought at flea markets going to get me in trouble?
More than anything else, buying counterfeit products only encourages the illegal trade. Buying something that is a counterfeit is not illegal but it is unethical. You could be part of the reason for people losing their jobs and for legitimate businesses closing shop. However, anything you plan to resell knowing it is possibly a counterfeit product is illegal.
Where in the world is it illegal to buy counterfeit goods?
There are only 2 countries where you can get into trouble by buying counterfeit goods: Italy and France.
Can I get into trouble bringing in a counterfeit bag I bought in another country?
Generally, customs officials will allow you to bring in a personal purchase even if it is a counterfeit item provided you only have one per category. Thus, you cannot go to Asia, buy a dozen bags and DVDs and expect to freely bring them into the country. They will be confiscated and you will be charged a fine.