Monday, June 17, 2013

Is it Illegal to Own a Knockoff Purse?

Dear Rich: I know it's illegal to sell knockoff purses but is it illegal to buy or own one? Can a person be arrested just for owning a counterfeit? Short answer: Purchasing or possessing a knockoff or counterfeit purse in the U.S. won't get you arrested (unless some U.S. lawmakers have their way). Buying counterfeits is illegal in Italy and France. Although buying a single counterfeit or illegal purse won't get you in trouble in the U.S., selling a knockoff or counterfeit is illegal.
Knockoffs ≠ counterfeits. Although many people use the terms interchangeably, knockoffs and counterfeits are not the same. A knockoff purse resembles another company's purse but doesn't use the names or trademarks. For example, a knockoff purse would lack the Chanel Double-C logo (left). Counterfeiting is the act of making or selling lookalike goods or services bearing fake trademarks, for example, a business deliberately duplicating the Chanel trademark on purses.
Likelihood of confusion, the basis for a trademark infringement claim, is self-evident in counterfeiting, because the counterfeiter’s primary purpose is to confuse or dupe consumers. But unlike typical trademark infringement, even when a buyer knows that the product is a fake, the business is still liable for counterfeiting, because the product can still be used to deceive others.
Trafficking is the crime. It's a federal crime to traffic in counterfeit goods. According to federal law, the term “traffic” means to transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of, to another, for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, or to make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess, with intent to so transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of. Because customs officials are only interested in trafficking, they crack down on large shipments but allow a U.S. citizen to bring in one counterfeit product per class (scroll to Section (d) Exemptions).
Book Alert! And if you're looking for a noir-ish mystery in which counterfeit goods are the root of all evil, check out The Accident: A Thriller.

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