A Fashion Crime That Could Get You a Year in Jail

New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, wants the neighborhood to be known for its museums, restaurants, and "really authentic goods" instead of "fake knockoffs." She questions the moral values of people who demand the instant gratification of a cheap imitation instead of saving up to "buy the real thing." So she wants to put them in jail: A bill she is sponsoring would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year behind bars, to buy a phony Rolex watch or faux Gucci handbag.

Even someone who is skeptical of intellectual property laws can recognize the legitimacy of trademarks as a protection against fraud. But a person who buys a bogus Burberry scarf, though potentially a victim, has not violated anyone's rights, let alone committed an offense that merits jail time. It is questionable whether even Chinatown's purveyors of "counterfeit" goods deserve to be punished, since their customers generally do not imagine they are getting a surprisingly good deal on the latest fashion accessories. The buyers are in on the con too, and the only people fooled by it are the friends, acquaintances, and random passers-by who think they have better taste and more discretionary income than they really do. Is that a crime? 

Check out Reason.tv's report on the campaign for legal protection of clothing designs (as opposed to trademarks):

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  • ||

    Just don't make any knock-off John Deeres.

  • rather ||

    There are only two fashion crimes: One is to wear a knock-off, and the other is to wear labels

  • Charlotte Sometimes||

    3) Jeggings.

  • ||

    You obviously haven't seen my wife in jeggings.

  • Abdul||

    I've seen her out of them while you were busy working.

  • ||

    One of my student's wore jeggings to work. I now know too much about her lady business.

  • Charlotte Sometimes||

  • ||

    I work on a college campus. In broad strokes, I support these trends. But it makes for uncomfortable cookouts. I am friends with her husband, after all.

  • Bohica||

    Sounds like the opportunity for a rare two-fer on the ol'd to-do list:
    1) student ✔
    2) friend's wife ✔
    Is she Asian by chance? I know, looking for a 3-fer is just getting greedy but...

  • ||

    No, she's super-thin and about as blonde and as pale as you can be with being an albino. She's quite fetching. And she's got a delightfully sharp tongue on her.

  • Charlotte Sometimes||

    Yes, it might be a little awkward to be rockin' a W-neck at a cookout.

  • ||

    Totally stealing that.

  • Charlotte Sometimes||

    I don't mean to give the ol' stinkeye to "kids these days." I dressed like Shirley Manson in college. Oh, I still break out the tweed mini skirt, thigh-high novelty socks, and just-below-the-knee Doc Martens once in a while, but you do learn there is a time and a place. . . and that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should :)

  • ||

    Totally stealing that.

    Every term in that vid is worth stealing.

    In fact, I've already ordered some Sweerings and made an appointment to get my ears pierced.

  • Bohica||

    "Too much is never enough!"

  • The Gobbler||

    ^^THIS^^

  • Restoras||

    4) Crocs

  • Gelidus V||

    5) Ugg boots (especially with a miniskirt)

  • Restoras||

    Agreed, plus it makes NO FUCKING SENSE.

  • ||

    "I sure wish the Australians would come up with a way to make my legs look fat..."

  • Charlotte Sometimes||

    The Uggs are hiding their cankles. Duh.

  • ||

    Flannel shirt + leggings + flat soled boots = no!

  • ||

    Where is my Roldex watch??

  • Ska||

    Right next to your Dolo wallet and Hilfingger pants.

  • Chris||

    That you, Risky?

  • Ted S.||

    I wouldn't mind having a rolodex/watch.

  • ||

    I think they call them "phones" nowadays.

  • MNG||

    But wait a minute, isn't the victim the holder of the mark as much as, if not more than, customers?

  • MNG||

    They've invested to create associations with the mark and then the infringer comes in and piggybacks off it. Even when the customer knowingly buys a knock off they do so in part because it is somewhat passed off as like the trademarked item.

  • ||

    Teh Externalities!

    You're a joke.

  • OO||

    cause heller sayth so

  • ||

    Scathing criticism OO.

  • WTF||

    Yeah, people should save up to buy the real thing, instead of going to tractor pulls.

  • OO=====D||

    I am a tractor.

  • Dick Cheney||

    PULL!

  • ||

    Good thing I was sitting down when I read this comment. MNG actually said something that makes sense, and we should all applaud him. The victim is the holder of the mark. He or she or it invested time, money and energy in creating something of value, only to have it stolen by others. Now the buyer gets the cachet of Gucci or some other obnoxious label, the seller gets to profit from the theft, and person who developed the orginal is at risk of losing future customers because the counterfeit good is probably of lesser quality, which can damage the mark.

  • WTF||

    MNG actually said something that makes sense, and we should all applaud him.

    Yeah, but Minge has said so many stupid things that he is still running a surplus, so we'll just continue to mock him.

  • ||

    All correct, except for the part where you mistook copying for stealing, which also happens to be the only point of importance.

  • ||

    ""All correct, except for the part where you mistook copying for stealing, ""

    So if I go into a secure room with classifed documents, and copy those documents and leave with them, I didn't steal anything? ;-)

  • Saro||

    Correct. You just copied them.

  • Otto||

    So it's okay to copy a few Federal Reserve Notes? After all, the Bernank is doing it...

  • cynical||

    But the cachet arises from society's snobs, not the designer. It's not an intrinsic, if subjective, property like beauty or something.

  • Bradley||

    Reputation isn't property.

  • ||

    So defamation is totally legit, even if it causes ostracism?

  • Bradley||

    Yep. At least in the eyes of the law.

  • Robert||

    Exactly 2 possibilities:

    #1 -- The buyer doesn't know it's not a Gucci. OK, then the buyer and trademark owner each lose something.

    #2 -- The buyer does know it's not a Gucci. The buyer loses nothing, although the trademark owner still loses something. However, what the trademark owner loses in this case is the same something as would be lost if the customer decided to buy another mark or no product at all. The buyer is no more stealing something from the trademark owner than is the buyer of a facade book with the title on the spine and empty space inside is stealing from the copyright holder.

  • prolefeed||

    @MNG -- How do you feel about someone imitating some product, but not using the trademark -- something that looks exactly like a Gucci bag, except there's no Gucci logo?

    And is this any different than someone pirating a hot new movie -- the next "Avatar", say -- but changing the title?

  • Cyto||

    Pirate as in remake a film using the same story (and even scenery/shots) or pirate as in an exact digital copy just with a different name on the box?

    One is more like the "make a bag that looks like a Gucci only without the logo" than the other.

  • ||

    I think I saw that movie, it was called Vatara.

  • Robert||

    Heck, what about somebody who buys the product but doesn't like the label, and so tears it off before displaying it? Seems that's diluting the reput'n too by failing to advertise it.

  • Robert||

    So what? What's the purpose of trademark? What's the purpose of prod'n?

  • cynical||

    No? No IP, no grounds for complaint.

  • ||

    I think it should be a fashion crime for any politician to wear blue jeans and a plaid shirt in order to pass himself off as a "regular guy."

  • ||

    make it a capital offense if he also talks about "huntin' varmints"

  • sarcasmic||

    I'd settle for making it a crime to be a politician.

  • rather ||

    Don't aid and abet criminals by voting

  • ||

    rather, I heartily commend you in this and hope you'll continue that course of action.

  • ||

    After elections, we flip a coin for each "winner". Heads, they go straight to jail for 4 years (or the term length of the office to which they were elected, whichever is longer), tails, they actually get to do the job.

  • ||

    tails, they actually get to do the job go to jail for three.

  • ||

    SHHHHHHH, they have to think there's a chance of not-going-to-jail, or they won't run for office. (Who am I kidding, they'd still run.)

  • cynical||

    I still maintain that we should go Greek and randomly select our representatives from the pool of registered voters.

  • Pip||

    Whhy must one do the buttsex in order to randomly select our representatives from the pool of registered voters?

  • Bohica||

    Better to be prepared for what's coming once their in office?

  • Bohica||

    Awww damn. Teh buttsex may not be a sin but using their instead of they're certainly is.

  • sarcasmic||

    I would support an Amendment barring lawyers from public office.

  • WTF||

    Maragret Chin, Chinatown, Kung Fu Fighting - what is this China Day at H&R? And where the hell is The Truth?

  • ||

    I'm right here!

  • Restoras||

    That's Mr. Da Troof to you!

  • Property-owning libertarian||

    Even someone who is skeptical of intellectual property laws can recognize the legitimacy of trademarks as a protection against fraud

    Three of us agree with you, though I, personally, am not skeptical of the concept of intellectual property. The products of my brain and effort are mine.

  • robc||

    The products of my brain and effort are mine.

    Then you cant support intellectual property (other than trademark, I also support it as a protection against fraud).

    The patent and copyright office specifically say that the produts of my brain and effort arent always mine.

  • Property-owning libertarian||

    I don't get my philosophy from The Patent and Copyright Office. Human rights are inherent. The Office cannot "grant" me something which is already mine.

  • ||

    Intellectual property may or may not be real, depending on your definition of the term. But patents, copyrights, and trademarks are just a fiction created by government. With a patent, for example, you agree to give the public the full details to reproduce your invention, and the government agrees to enforce a limited and strictly temporary monopoly on your behalf. If you choose to keep your idea private, rather than donate it to posterity, then it's up to you and your lawyers to protect your own trade secrets. Same with copyrights, which are intended to run their course and then drop the works into the public domain for the enrichment of our common culture.

    OTOH, if your idea is so trivial that anyone with basic skills and knowledge can reverse-engineer and copy it, like a fashion design, then you haven't invented anything at all, and there's nothing to protect. Manufacture your product and sell it for whatever the market will bear, and if you want to stay in that line of work, plan on investing some of the profits into your next product. Or hoard it and never let anyone see it, if you prefer.

  • ||

    Technically the common law says you are wrong, copyrights and patents are purely the product of statute. On the other hand the common law traditional protected marks as a theory of fraud, where one would claim their product is X when its totally fucking not. The real gray area these days is likelihood of confusion

  • Saro||

    Your so-called "thought property" rights violate my actual, physical property rights.

    You can, of course, use violence to stop me from exercising my physical property rights, but I wouldn't confuse that position with libertarianism.

  • ||

    How can people in New York be 'Chinese?' Everything there - even the people - must be counterfeit.

  • ||

    "....really authentic goods" instead of "fake knockoffs."
    We demand real knockoffs, not fake.
    I remember how many times in the tenderloin I was disappointed with transvestites when I wanted a pre-op transexual. SHOW ME THE FAKE BOOBS!!!

  • ||

    I almost read that "really authentic boobs" instead of "fake knockers".

  • NotSure||

    Use the commerce clause to make it a crime for those that do not buy Rolexes, the act of not buying one clearly hurts the economy, problem solved !

  • ChrisO||

    Good thing every other single problem in New York City has been solved, so that Councilwoman Chin can finally focus her attention on this vital matter.

  • ||

    Next thing you know, someone will be carbonating white wine and calling it 'Champagne'.

  • ||

    Gucci isn't losing business due to the cheap knockoffs. That's a difference between this and most IP issues. If you can afford a Gucci, you're not buying a knockoff.

  • cynical||

    But rich bitches won't get to feel superior to everyone else because they have more money to spend on trivial shit, TV! You never thought of them, did you?

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