Should It be Illegal to Buy Counterfeit Designer Goods?

The ethics of this issue are clear, I think. The mystery is: Why did it take so long, and why isn’t there a national law?

New York City councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, has introduced a bill would make it a misdemeanor  to  buy fake designer merchandise on the street or anywhere else. Violators would face a $1,000 fine, a year in jail, or both.

The New York Times interviewed a tourist who articulated the argument against Chin’s bill.
“I come down here, I will continue coming down here, and I will follow the Chinese people wherever they take me,” the New Jersey resident told the Times reporter “as she stood amid the purse and sunglass vendors on Canal Street.” “I don’t believe in child labor and I don’t believe in supporting terrorists, but if I want to buy a knockoff, that’s my business.”

Strange; I would say that it is the business of the designers who are losing money to illegally counterfeited merchandise. In the course of the Times’ inquiries to business owners and shoppers yield more rationalizations than Chins in the Chinatown phone book, such as…

  • Some of the knock-offs are really good. “Six years ago, I bought a ‘Rolex’ watch, and it still works. Never even changed the battery,” said one satisfied counterfeit fan.
  • The price is right. “I think people should have the option to buy what’s in their budget,” said another New Jersey visitor. “I like fashion for an affordable price, and not everyone can afford $300 or $500 for a bag.”
  • Knock-offs provide jobs. “How many people will be out of business if this passes?” asked a public-spirited knock-off buyer.
  • Pro-choice. “If they know what they’re buying and they go into a store and realize it’s not an original Gucci or Prada,they should have a right to buy what they want,” opined a freedom-lover.
  • It’s too much trouble to enforce the law. “There’s a limited number of things we can do,”  said someone named Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Wait...what???
  • It will hurt the Chinatown tourist trade. “They’re coming here for this,” a Chinatown business owner said, pointing to the “seemingly endless line of storefronts filled with handbags.” “The main attraction is this, here.”
  • The end justifies the means. “If the economy is going down, why stop people from spending money?” asked a local utilitarian.

There is no legitimate reason not to make knowingly purchasing counterfeit designer goods illegal, and any ethical consumer should refuse to buy such items with or without a law. These products are notorious for being manufactured in foreign sweat shops, they are misappropriating trade-marks, and wearing or using them to make others believe one owns a designer product is misrepresentation. Buying fake Rolexes and Burberry scarves is no more ethical than knowingly buying stolen goods, and carries the extra unethical bonus of wearing a visual lie.

How disturbing that so many among the public are willing to excuse inexcusable conduct on the grounds that, in essence, they just want to keep doing it.

19 thoughts on “Should It be Illegal to Buy Counterfeit Designer Goods?

  1. Unethical to buy counterfeit goods? Sure. But I have real problems with the practicality of satisfying the “knowledge” element of your proposed crime.

    • “Hmmm… similar looking handbags normally sell for as much as my car, but on this dirty street corner near the homeless guy waving his penis at a parking meter, it’s being sold for $5.25. Maybe I’m their one millionth customer.”

      • Remember my objection relates to the practicality of the enforcement of this law. The extreme cases are the easy ones, but plenty of people are victimized by purchasing counterfeit goods they believe to be authentic. Unless you are proposing a strict liability standard (which you claim you are not), what other evidence — other than the sales transaction itself — are you going to use to infer the person’s requisite mental intent? Because you will have no other evidence (absent an admission), you would need to use some kind of reasonable person standard. Would a reasonable person know that this is too good a deal or that this vendor is known to be a counterfeiter? Is that reasonable person defined as a hardened New Yorker or the little old lady from Pasadena? When you have craft a law with a mental element that is exceedingly difficult to define and to prove, you have crafted a lousy law.

        • It is odd that none of those quoted in the Times story raised your argument, which is a good one. My dad once gave me a Lacoste shirt that fell apart the first time I wore it. But even a law that only worked in obvious cases would be an improvement.

        • It’s funny how there is never any question of guilt when people are in possession of stolen goods, but you want some special dispensation for people that buy knock offs out the trunk of some guy’s car in NYC. Let’s use a little common sense here. Ignorance is of the law does not negate it.

  2. If only we could go after the prople who make them. Alas, they live in China or such. While the law is ethically admirable, I don’t know if it will do much.

    • Both, I’d say. Since I was only writing about the culpability of purchasers, I didn’t even look at the laws regarding the sellers. My understanding is that selling knock-offs is illegal, but that police only enforce the law periodically. But I better check.

  3. “I don’t believe in child labor and I don’t believe in supporting terrorists, but if I want to buy a knockoff, that’s my business.”

    I say this rarely, but LOL. That’s like, “Keep the government away from my Medicaid.”

    It’s strange that this has gotten so little attention over the years. We make a big deal of going after child labor and sweatshops and the courts are always arguing over copyright infringements, but because this has to do with “fashion,” the rules don’t really apply.

    • I wouldn’t. People have the right to profit by their own industry under their own name. When that name is forged with cheap goods, it reflects not on the actual manufacturer, but the name of a company that GOT its good name by the quality of its product. Fraud… AND slander.

      The sanctity of a trademark is the equivalent of that of an individual. In other words, to identity theft. That’s happened to me, BTW. Morally, it doesn’t matter if its directed at an unknown individual or a large corporation. But when it’s directed at a manufacturer, it also strikes at the heart of free, competitive commerce. And that’s the lifeblood of our economy.

      Yes, this matters. And it should be prosecuted fully where found.

  4. Why not go after the people who are making, importing and selling them? By targeting the consumers you are just increasing the liability to the consumer, why should I be forced to prove everything I’ve purchased is not a counterfeit? Sound like a good way to keep the lawyers gainfully employed though. 😉

    Did your wife see a knock-off of the bag you bought your in the window of a bodega or something?

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