Counterfeit goods are goods that have been altered in order to make them appear as if they are from an authentic source. Although counterfeit goods are often associated with cheap or low-quality items, that is not always the case. In some instances, counterfeit goods may be made from decent materials that make it look exactly like the original product, but the person or company selling them is not legally allowed to do so.

The practice of counterfeiting goods involves the unauthorized use of labels, logos, trademarks, and sometimes even patent designs. These labels and so forth get attached to generic goods, which are then passed off and sold as if they are the authentic product.

Some of the most common examples of counterfeit goods include counterfeit handbags, clothing, accessories, perfumes, and electronics. However, the most commonly seized counterfeit goods are athletic shoes, specifically, from brands like Nike and Adidas. Valuable artworks, especially paintings, have also been the subject of counterfeited goods though they are usually referred to as “forgeries.”

In addition, counterfeit goods are also known as “rip-offs,” “fakes,” or “knock-off” products. While some goods, such as CDS, DVDs, and video games, may be counterfeit, they are usually called “pirated goods.”

The main difference between counterfeit and pirated goods is that counterfeit merchandise is trying to deceive its purchasers, whereas purchasers of pirated items are generally aware that they are not from legitimate sources.

Is it Illegal to Buy or Sell Counterfeit Items?

It is very difficult to hold a person liable for buying counterfeit goods, especially if the individual purchased the item without knowing or being able to tell that it was fake. It should be noted, however, that each state has its own policies regarding the purchase of counterfeit goods and thus the rules may vary by jurisdiction.

On the other hand, it is against the law to sell, manufacture, and/or distribute counterfeit goods. In fact, there are several federal and state laws that make it illegal to engage in the trade of counterfeit goods.

The following list provides examples of some of the laws that prohibit the sale of counterfeit goods, such as:

  • Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act: This act focuses on prohibiting the practice of attaching brand name labels or logos to generic items, and from presenting low quality items as brand name products.
  • Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1984: This law makes it illegal to sell goods that use another company’s trademark without permission from the company.
  • Anticounterfeiting Consumer Protection Act: This act imposes criminal liability for the trafficking of counterfeit goods and/or services. More specifically, the act targets the counterfeiting of copyrighted merchandise, including motion pictures and computer programs.

Additionally, the counterfeiting industry is a complex and highly organized effort. It usually involves the transport of illegal goods across both state and international borders, As such, persons who are arrested for selling counterfeit goods are typically charged with a number of crimes in connection to the sales, such as conspiracy and the smuggling of goods.

What are Some Legal Consequences of Selling Counterfeit Goods?

A person who is caught selling, distributing, or manufacturing counterfeit goods can face serious legal penalties under the relevant laws. For instance, the penalties for violating anti-counterfeiting laws can include:

  • A prison sentence ranging between 5 to 20 years; and
  • Having to pay fines of up to $500,000 or more depending on the facts of the case.

As previously mentioned, states may have their own separate punishments for persons who violate counterfeiting laws. Despite the varying state laws, however, the general statute of limitations for bringing a case is 5 years, but could extend up to 8 years if there are terrorism related connections. If the counterfeited goods are related to terrorism, then a convicted defendant can expect to receive harsher punishments.

In addition, anti-counterfeiting laws also permit authorities to seize counterfeit goods, the money from associated sales, and any property or equipment that was used in connection with the distribution of the illegal items. Thus, this means that law enforcement may seize any vehicles that were used to transport the goods and/or any machinery that was used to make them.

Finally, manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit merchandise may also face a private lawsuit in civil court against the company whose trademark or design patent was infringed.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Issues Involving Counterfeit Goods?

If you are facing criminal charges involving counterfeit goods, then you should consider contacting a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide guidance on the relevant counterfeit and trade laws in your state, can help you prepare your case, and will be able to represent you in court if necessary.

Alternatively, if you believe that someone has been illegally selling and making counterfeits of your product, then you should contact an attorney for advice on how to bring a private infringement lawsuit.