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New York Debates Crackdown on Counterfeit Goods

Tue Jun 18, 2013 1:08 am

If this becomes possible, I hope they don't move forward to people BUYING bootlegs/imports too: ... -1.1371895

Councilwoman Margaret Chin wants to criminalize purchase of counterfeit goods

Chin has proposed a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to buy fake goods, and subject offenders who are convicted to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail

By Alfred Ng AND Thomas Tracy / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Thursday, June 13, 2013, 4:12 PM

Shawn Inglima/New York Daily News

Councilwoman Margaret Chin has proposed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to purchase counterfeit goods. Offenders would face a $1,000 fine and could be tossed in jail for up to a year if convicted.

Hunting for a bargain handbag on Canal Street would be a risky endeavor if a bill proposed by a Manhattan councilwoman is approved.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin has submitted a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to purchase counterfeit merchandise, meaning that someone caught paying for a knockoff “Gucci” purse, for instance, would face a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail if convicted.

The bill was subject to a hearing before the Council’s public safety committee on Thursday, and opinion varied as to whether penalizing the purchaser was an appropriate way to stem the illegal trade in knockoff handbags, wallets, DVDs and other popular retail items.

It is not a crime to buy or own counterfeit goods in New York City, though it is illegal to hawk them. Vendors selling purportedly designer handbags for about the price of a pack of cigarettes used to be extremely common on Canal Street and in the warrens of Chinatown, but recent crackdowns by the NYPD have made things more difficult for sellers.

But Chin, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan, said the black market in counterfeit goods is alive and well and continuing to hurt the bottom lines of merchants, designers and honest vendors. She says her bill would be effective at combating the scourge by targeting the demand side of the equation.

Seth Wenig/AP

Bargain hunters flock to Manhattan’s Chinatown for fake handbags.

“We gotta do something,” Chin said. “This is really having a severe impact on quality of life.”

A representative of the mayor’s office, however, rejected Chin’s concept, arguing that severely punishing the purchaser would scare New Yorkers and tourists away from buying goods from legitimate merchants.

“While we share the Council’s frustration with consumers’ misguided support of criminal enterprise, we are unable to agree with the approach taken by the bill,” said Kathleen McGee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement.

McGee said the city could reduce demand for counterfeit goods by increasing public awareness of how counterfeiters use forced child labor, don’t pay taxes and, in some cases, fund terrorist activities.

Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News

Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. chairs the public safety committee, which discussed Chin's bill during a hearing Thursday. Vallone said he would not support making it a misdemeanor to purchase counterfeit goods, but would consider classifying it as a violation.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office sided with McGee, contending it would be difficult for prosecutors to prove that a person knowingly bought counterfeit goods.

“My 70-year-old mother wouldn’t know a Hermes scarf from a Henry scarf,” said Karen Turner, Deputy Bureau Chief for the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ Rackets Bureau. “How would you prove what my mother knew?”

Even City Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Peter Vallone Jr., a staunch supporter of the NYPD, said that it “seems a little tough” to throw someone in jail who unsuspectingly bought a knockoff item. He said he would consider making such a purchase a violation, not a crime.

Chin said she was disappointed in the position taken by Mayor Bloomberg’s office, and said inaction against rampant purchasing of counterfeit goods has gone on for far too long.

She added that her Calvin Klein handbag was bought at Century 21, and not on Canal Street.

With News Wire Services