Intellectual Property Rights

What should I do when I see a knock-off at the $2 shop!

March 20, 2014

First published in the Watermark Journal Volume 29 Number 3

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  I’m sure you’ve heard the truism before, but when it comes to counterfeit (knock-off) goods, a low price can come at a cost.

Counterfeit goods are sold all over the world and include fashion items such as clothing, bags, jewellery and wallets, consumer goods such as perfumes, hair straightening irons and toasters, automotive parts such as airbags and brakes and even pharmaceuticals.  These goods are often sold in market stalls throughout Asia; in Australia you can find them in ‘$2 Shops’, discount stores, online, and at markets.

The quality of counterfeit goods can range from ‘obviously fake’ to those that ‘look’ identical to the genuine goods.  No matter how good the copy, there are a number of issues with buying counterfeit goods:

  1. Counterfeit goods are not the real thing and are therefore not made to the same strict quality standards as genuine goods;
  2. Counterfeit goods can be dangerous and harm the consumer – some examples include: the plastic handle of straightening iron melting when you use it, vehicle airbags that don’t inflate on impact, chainsaws not having protective guards fitted or even pharmaceuticals which do not contain the active ingredient or worse, contain an ingredient that could cause further harm; and
  3. Buying counterfeit goods is analogous to stealing from the owners and sellers of the genuine product.  The genuine owners have invested time and money developing their intellectual property, branding and marketing as well as in research, design and manufacture of their products.

Producing and selling counterfeit or imitation goods including, copying products protected by patents or copyright, copying or ‘knocking-off’ trade marks or making packaging look similar to another trader’s, is intellectual property crime.  It is a global, multi-billion dollar problem that has serious economic ramifications for governments, businesses and consumers. The proceeds of the sale of some of these goods are linked to organised crime.  According to the Australian Federal Police, the sale of counterfeit goods costs the global economy more than US$200 billion each year while the Economist Magazine estimates that it is closer to US$600 billion per year if online sales are included.  Trade in counterfeit medicines and defective products also has serious health and safety ramifications for the public.

It is important that we all recognize and reject counterfeit goods.  While you might save a few dollars (or even a few hundred dollars) when buying counterfeit goods, you don’t know where they come from, whether they are safe and what the proceeds of their sale may be helping to fund.

By Carla Cher

counterfeit goods   customs   intellectual property

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