When it comes to learning more about the consequences of buying counterfeit products, there are many resources available to refer to. However, there are few better sources of information than those on the front line — lawyers.
And what better way to tap into their wealth of knowledge about counterfeiting than to just ask them directly? We contacted 5 lawyers, and asked them to answer a range of questions regarding counterfeit goods. In this article, we’ll share with you their answers to the question, “Why should people avoid buying counterfeit goods?”
Keep reading to discover their expert insights. As you’ll learn, buying counterfeit goods simply isn’t worth the risk.
1. “Buyers don’t know what they are getting.”
Marc P. Misthal, Trademark/Copyright Attorney, Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, P.C
There are several reasons why people should avoid buying counterfeit goods. First, buyers don’t know what they are getting. Counterfeit products can be poorly made, or made with inferior materials. This can be a significant issue when items like counterfeit perfume, baby formula, or car parts are being purchased.
Second, counterfeiters generally do not pay taxes, so they are taking services without paying for them. Third, the people who make counterfeits are generally not treated well — child labor can be used to make products, and laborers can be paid below minimum wage.
Finally, who is behind the counterfeits? Who is the money going to? It can be going to sponsor unlawful or terrorist activities. For more information, I’d recommend taking a read of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website about the dangers of counterfeits.
2. “Possession of counterfeit goods for sale is a serious crime.”
Ambrosio Rodriguez, Criminal Defense Attorney & Founding Partner, The Rodriguez Law Group
As an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, I can confidently say that it’s never a good idea to buy anything that you think may be stolen or counterfeit. Doing so could land you in serious legal trouble. While buying counterfeit goods may not be a crime, possession of those goods could cause trouble.
Possession of counterfeit goods for sale is a serious crime. In California, for example, the punishment really depends on how many counterfeit goods you have, as well as their combined value. Minor violations are misdemeanors, punishable by a year in jail. Serious violations are felonies, punishable by up to 3 years behind bars. You can also be required to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
It’s also important to understand that buying counterfeit goods may actually drive up the cost of the legitimate goods. This can hurt others and even drive legitimate businesses to a state of financial ruin. So, buying counterfeit goods may not just have consequences for you, but others, as well.
3. “You are perpetuating violation of trade, patent, and copyright laws”
Sun Dahan, Associate Director, Operations & Marketing, Law Office of Matthew J. Kidd
There are two reasons why you don’t want to buy counterfeit goods.The first reason is that you’re a victim. That is, the consumer/buyer is usually unaware that they’ve purchased fake product. They are lured in by a lower price than the legitimate product, but ends up with a much lower quality, illegitimate, and illegal product with no true warranty.
In addition, you are perpetuating violation of trade, patent, and copyright laws meant to protect the individuals and entities who lawfully invented,
manufactured, and distributed the products in question.
The second reason is that you’re putting yourself at risk. How so? First, counterfeit goods are often made using cheap and dangerous components that put the health and safety of consumers at risk. The drug market, for example, has been flooded with counterfeit prescription medications laced with hazardous substances.
Second, if you know you’re buying counterfeit goods, you may be unwittingly aiding and perpetuating the sale of counterfeit products upon the general public. Third, if you buy these products online, you could become a victim of identity theft, as you are providing your credit card information to individuals or entities who clearly have no problem operating illegally.
4. “Purchasers are supporting organized crime and terrorism.”
Wade K. Sims, Staff Attorney, Patterson Intellectual Property Law
From a consumer’s perspective, the simple answer is, “You get what you pay for.” Counterfeit products are cheaper generally because they use inferior materials, shoddy labor, and unethical distribution methods. Authentic brands are more expensive not just because of marketing and profit margin, but because businesses invest in better quality product, warranties, customer service, and other consumer benefits.
Because counterfeit goods are imported illegally, they aren’t subject to the same consumer and environmental regulations, quality control procedures, and manufacturer warranties. At best, the counterfeit products will look cheaper and won’t last as long when compared to the real deal. At worst, the product may actually be dangerous to your health and safety, such as counterfeit airbags that explode shrapnel into drivers’ chests and counterfeit mobile phone batteries that overheat and catch fire.
Many consumers try to justify buying counterfeits by saying that because they never could have afforded the authentic product, the business isn’t harmed financially by losing out on a sale. However, businesses have to spend tremendous amounts on attorneys and legal enforcement to protect their brand and prevent the market from being flooded with subpar and potentially unsafe products. Those costs translate into higher prices that makes luxury products even less affordable for consumers.
Additionally, many anticounterfeiting groups claim that by buying counterfeits, purchasers are supporting organized crime and terrorism. It’s a bold claim, but some officials have stated that terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State sold counterfeit goods to finance their activities and attacks, such as the January and November 2015 attacks in Paris.
Unlike patent and copyright law, which are designed to benefit the creator, trademarks are primarily a consumer protection device. Their purpose is to prevent customers from being confused about a product’s origin and enable consumers to trust the branding as a sign of its source and quality.
Counterfeiting undermines that principle because it tries to confuse other consumers, if not the purchaser, into believing that the fake product is affiliated with the emulated brand. It not only harms the brand and the company, it also harms the employees, designers, distributors, and all people involved in bringing legitimate products to market.
5. “It hurts the ability of artists to survive financially.”
Ted Sabety, Founder & Principal, Sabety + associates
There are many reasons, especially involving consumer safety. Imagine taking counterfeit vitamins that contain a carcinogenic toxin. This has become a real problem in the drug industry.
Then, there is the question of quality of build in other products. From a consumer standpoint, if you bought what looked like a good counterfeit and it stopped working, you won’t be getting any protection under a warranty from the bona fide manufacturer.
With regards to counterfeit music and movies, it hurts the ability of artists to survive financially.
Are you a lawyer who has any insights about why people should avoid buying counterfeit goods? Comment below!
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