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April 27, 2021

Should buyers of counterfeit goods face jail, fines if caught?

Everyone looks at counterfeit goods the same.

Istockphoto_5591533-purses-for-sale “God, ew, that’s despicable. Who would ever buy something like this? … (examining product, under breath) … Unless …”

It’s the same progression. “What am I, scum?” turns into “Actually, this isn’t so bad” which ends up as “Why did I ever pay for the real thing?” That’s how fake items suck you in, and that’s why knockoff products like shoes, purses and sunglasses form such a major market.

But while we know it’s illegal to sell counterfeit goods, what if it was against the law to buy  them, too? One New York City councilwoman is trying to make that so.

Under the bill proposed this week by Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose Chinatown district is “ground zero” for counterfeiters, according to the New York Post, shoppers caught buying knockoff goods could be jailed or handed a $1,000 fine.

“It’s a very big problem,” Chin told the paper. “We don’t want to be known as the place to come to get counterfeit goods.”

Fair point, but while Chin admits to the Post the proposal sounds “draconian,” she may have a tough time selling her bill.

Piracy and counterfeiting has long been a thorn in the side of business, so much so that the International Chamber of Commerce blasted the G20 nations during last year’s summit for failing to do much about it. Within G20 countries, the group said, $125 billion is lost each year to fake products, putting 2.5 million legitimate jobs at risk.

Yet as ripped-off companies rightfully urge law enforcement to crack down on counterfeiters, should Joe Consumer face legal action if he’s caught buying knockoff goods? I suppose there’s little surface difference to buying bogus goods than there is to, say, buying narcotics. Both are illegal to import and sell, yet only one is truly enforced when it comes to the point of purchase.

And just look: consumers rich and poor don’t care at all about buying fake products. According to a report from the group Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting, 80 per cent of consumers spend on bootlegged or pirated goods without losing any sleep.

What do you think? Should Canadians be fined or even jailed if caught buying counterfeit goods – everything from street vendor products to mom-and-pop shop items to online sale products?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money

*Follow Jason on Twitter here.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...