Counterfeit goods are low-quality items that have been altered to make them appear to be name brand goods. The practice of counterfeiting goods involves the unauthorized use of labels, logos, and trademarks by placing them on generic goods.
The most common examples of counterfeit goods are counterfeit handbags, clothing, accessories perfumes, and electronics. The most commonly seized counterfeit goods are athletic shoes.
Counterfeit goods are also called counterfeit merchandise or “knock-off” products. The term may also include pirated items such as CD’s, DVD’s, and video games. Valuable art, especially paintings, are often counterfeited also.
Is it Illegal to Buy or Sell Counterfeit Goods?
It is difficult to hold a person liable for buying counterfeit goods, especially if the purchased the item or personal use without knowing that it was fake. State policies may vary regarding the purchase of counterfeit goods.
On the other hand, it is illegal to manufacture and distribute counterfeit goods. There are several federal and state laws that make it illegal to engage in the trade of counterfeit goods. Examples of some laws that prohibit the sale of counterfeit goods include:
- Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act: Specifically prohibits the practice of attaching brand-name labels onto generic items or presenting low-quality items as brand name products.
- Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1984: Makes it illegal to sell goods which use another company’s trademark without their permission.
- Anticounterfeiting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA): Imposes criminal liability for the trafficking of counterfeit goods or services. Specifically targets the counterfeiting of copyrighted merchandise including motion pictures and computer programs.
The counterfeiting industry is a complex and highly organized effort. It often involves the transport of illegal goods across state and international borders. Thus, persons who are arrested for selling counterfeit goods are often charged with several different crimes in connection with the sales, such as conspiracy and smuggling goods into the U.S.
What Are the Legal Consequences of Selling Counterfeit Goods?
A person who is caught distributing or manufacturing counterfeit goods could face severe legal penalties under such statutes. The penalties for violating anti-counterfeiting laws can include:
- 5-10 years in prison
- Fines of up to $500,000 (possibly more depending on the case)
In addition, anti-counterfeiting laws allow authorities to seize counterfeit goods, money from the sales, as well as any property that was used in connection with the distribution. This means that authorities may seize vehicles which were used to transport the items, or the machinery that was used to make them.
Lastly, manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit merchandise can also be sued in a private civil lawsuit by the company whose trademark or copyright was infringed upon.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Legal Issues with Counterfeit Goods?
If you are facing criminal charges in connection with counterfeit goods, you may wish to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your lawyer can advise you on the various trade laws of your state. Or, if you suspect that someone has been counterfeiting your product, you can contact a lawyer for advice on an infringement lawsuit.