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Chin Proposes Counterfeit Crackdown; Shoppers Vent

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Council Member Chin Holds Press Conference on Counterfeit Items in Chinatown
Councilmember Margaret Chin announced her bill during a City Hall news conference yesterday. Photo by: William Alatriste, New York City Council.

Most of the time, City Councilmember Margaret Chin’s news conferences, on topics such as affordable housing and education funding, are attended by just a few journalists from community media and Chinese language newspapers.  But yesterday, a gaggle of reporters came scurrying to City Hall to hear her propose something truly tabloid worthy: a crackdown on people who buy counterfeit merchandise.

Tomorrow, Chin will formally  introduce a city bill that, if enacted, would make buying fake designer items a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1000 fine or a year in jail (maximum penalties).  The counterfeit trade, she argued, hurts legitimate businesses in Chinatown and gives the neighborhood a bad image.  She also suggested the goods are connected to organized crime and, potentially, support terrorist activities.

Move To Make Buying Counterfeits Illegal: MyFoxNY.com

In a press release, Chin said something must be done to thwart Chinatown’s counterfeit industry, which has continued to thrive in spite of laws making it illegal to hawk fake goods:

“The demand for counterfeit goods has not slowed. Our lower Manhattan neighborhoods are inundated with illegal vendors. We cannot keep going about this issue in the same way. We need to deter people from purchasing these items… Our laws in incomplete in that they only target the supply of these items and not the demand,” Council member Chin said. “The bottom line is counterfeiters have to sell to do their job and we need a law in place that punishes buyers for supporting this illegal trade.” This legislation would put the power in the hands of police to issue summons’ to individuals caught buying counterfeit trademark goods. Council member Chin called the bill “smart crime-fighting… Substantial fines are something people understand” she said. “It’s faster, more effective, and ultimately is it going to cut down on the demand for these illegal goods.” Currently, buyers do not face any penalties for supporting a trade that costs New York City an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue annually.

This morning’s news stories are filled with angst-ridden quotes from shoppers distressed about Chin’s proposal. A sampling:

New York Times– Cabrina Whitam said she was willing to follow the trail of fake Chanel and Burberry handbags into whatever Chinatown backrooms it might lead her. “I come down here, I will continue coming down here, and I will follow the Chinese people wherever they take me,” Ms. Whitam, who lives in New Jersey, said Tuesday afternoon 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.”

New York Post: “I don’t think it’s a big deal to sell knockoff bags,” sniffed Morgan Mikulaschek, 19, a student who lives on the Upper West Side, as she toted around a fake Fendi that she bought for $40. “If they were selling real bags illegally, that’s one thing, but they’re fake — so who cares?” Mikulaschek said. “I don’t think the designers are hurt from it. Their regular customers aren’t going to go down to Canal Street to look for fakes.”

DNA Info: “It’s ridiculous,” said Karen, 29, a Connecticut resident, when told of the potential consequences. “So many things, like cigarettes, are really bad — they kill people. This doesn’t hurt anybody, so who cares?” Debra, 47, who was visiting from North Carolina, said she buys the fake bags because designer labels make their merchandise so expensive that most people can’t afford it. “It’s nice to have a knockoff bag and not pay full price,” she said.
But Chin argued the counterfeit trade does hurt lots of people, namely, small artisans and merchants who make authentic products distinctive to Chinatown.  She noted that most fakes are not sold inside Canal Streets stores but from the back of vans or by sketchy street pedlers hauling counterfeit items in big plastic bags. The bill could face an uphill battle. While Chin has five co-sponsors, the Times reported that Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not expressed an opinion about the legislation. And yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg appeared at least somewhat skeptical:

“Protecting the trademark of manufacturers is in the city’s interest and the country’s interest, otherwise people wouldn’t come here and sell things and create things… Whether this is the right way to go about it, I don’t know… There’s a limited number of things we can do (with limited Police resources)… How practical it is, I don’t know.”

If the bill becomes law, New York would be the first city in the nation to criminalize the purchase of fake merchandise.  France and Italy both have similar laws and they have had some success in reducing counterfeit sales. Susan Scafidic of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, told the Wall Street Journal:

“We’ve known for a long time that demand drives sales, especially when combined with the unfortunately exciting experience of an illicit transaction on Canal Street, but New York City has previously been reluctant to arrest guests in the city.. Now, the cheap tourist thrill of buying a fake bag may come with free accommodations — behind bars.”

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  1. Our local officers have told us these past years of being pulled off of their beats to participate in costly sweeps of knock-off bag sellers. This doesn’t serve our community’s needs (and it hasn’t work). Our Council Member is looking out for this community. And apparently actually serious about ending the drain on our police. She is willing to bring everything to bear.

    Like the targeting of prostitutes, but not the johns who use their services, arresting the counterfeit sellers changes nothing. It becomes just another harassment. Most people head towards risky and illegal work (I’m talking about the people “on the ground”) because they are out of options. Not because it was their dream job. Whereas the buyers are merely out for a bit of vanity shopping and a cheap deal with their surplus dollars.

    And if the trafficking really does support terrorism and child labor? Sorry, but it’s a no-brainer. And it is our business.

  2. Do any politicians ever use their head??? First, you can get ALL of the knock offs you want right off the internet, they come to you shipped right from Hong Kong, China, ect. Second, NYC gets a LOT of tax revenue every time someone like me takes the train in JUST to go to Canal St. We eat in their restaurants, stay in their hotels and shop at the other stores. We don’t go to Canal St to buy the “china town” junk that this woman says people go to Chinatown for. If it weren’t for the knock offs we wouldn’t be in that part of town.

    Just an FYI, I used to take the train from MD to NYC about 4 or 5 times a yr and since the crack down I have only been to NY a couple times in the past 2-3 yrs….Lost tax revenue, thank your politicians for that

  3. So these bags being produced by child labor isn’t so high on your agenda?

    “…the counterfitting rackets are run by crime syndicates that also deal in narcotics, weapons, child prostitution, human trafficking and terrorism.”- NY Times 8/30/2011

    Maybe it was because 9/11 happened here that the idea that any of this money might fund another mass murder makes us New Yorkers a bit sterner about such things.

    fyi the city loses an estimated $1 billion a year in lost tax revenue with the bag sales so I guess we’ll manage somehow without the “revenue” from your visits.

    But, we’ll point them to Woodstock so you don’t have to leave home to shop.

  4. This is the dumbest thing I have heard in recent months. Vendors hawk their wares as the real thing. Unsuspecting consumers (tourists and naive alike) think they are getting a discounted on the real thing. How the hell is the consumer supposed to tell the difference between the real thing and a counterfeit knock off? Why would the city put the onus on the consumer to be an expert in everything from watches to sandals? Is the city going to put up signs to warn people that the vendors are selling counterfeit items? Is the city going to have inspectors standing around waiting to ticket buyers for a purchase?
    Instead the city should be inspecting the vendors, confiscating the counterfeit items or at the very least be watching out for the consumers by warning them that what they are about to buy is not the real deal rather than saying…Ha…Gotcha! and handing them a summons for $1000. Who in their right mind thought of this dumber than dumb law?

  5. Clues: if someone asks you to go to a forlorn basement or the back of a van or walks up to you with pictures of bags and seems intensely secretive and the price seems to good to be true you might suspect criminal activity.

    Most buyers come here looking for knock-offs. They are not naive.

    Our police are constantly syphoned off to deal with this, people who live here have been attacked by sellers, no tax collection and it has shady connections to a whole host of unsavory industries.

    Whether or not someone has common sense doesn’t trump these other issues.

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