It may come as a great of a surprise to you as it did to my Loyola Fashion Law class:
It is illegal to sell, distribute or manufacture counterfeits. But it is perfectly legal to purchase them.
After my class got over the shock, we had a fabulous discussion (best of the semester in my opinion) about the ethics of buying counterfeit products, and compared that action to how society looked at illegally streaming or downloading music or movies.
Last week, NY City Council woman Margaret Chin proposed new legislation that would amend New York's administrative code so that anyone caught purchasing a counterfeit product would be subject up to a year in jail and have to pay a fine of $1,000 fine. Chin previously introduced similar legislation in 2011, but it died in the City Council.
Like my class, I am conflicted over this issue and question whether new legislation is needed.
Let's be clear. I do not support counterfeits. In many industries, like pharmaceuticals or consumer products (think tires or water bottles), counterfeits have the potential to poss serious risk to your health, safety and well-being.
That said, I have read the MIT study that show that almost half the purchasers of counterfeit fashion products subsequently purchased the authentic version.
And from listening to the passionate discussion in my class, most didn't regret buying counterfeit fashion items stating luxury brands mark up their products so much, what's the harm?
When we compared purchasing fashion counterfeits to illegally downloading or streaming music and/or movies, the overwhelming majority of my class felt more guilty about pirating music and/or movies than buying counterfeit fashion products.
Interesting, when we discussed online purchases verse in person purchases, my class thought those who purchased online should not be punished, as they are less likely to know the item is counterfeit (although some vocal dissenters said the price of the item and which website you were on should clue you in.)
Perhaps threats of fines or jail will change the attitude and behavior of the buyers. But compare our "war on drugs." Has that really stopped, or even decreased, the drug trade?
In the end, throwing tourists visiting canal street in jail won't will drain the city of its counterfeit problems. The new law could harm tourism, which is New York City's largest industry, and be a PR nightmare.
New York, and other cities around the world, LA included, face an moral dilemma. As a society, we need to take a hard look at what drives consumer purchasing behavior and weigh the best possible steps to effectuate change.
But don't forget, at issue is ethics. And I am not sure our country's politicians always have the best moral compasses.
ps -- you can read more of our tips, thoughts and advice for protecting your brand against counterfeiting here.