Is it illegal to sell knockoffs online?

Photo courtesy of 123rf and @belchonock
Photo courtesy of 123rf and @belchonock

Let’s begin with the difference between a knockoff product and counterfeit product. A knockoff product does not have the original manufacturer’s trademarks or exact design, and merely resembles closely the true product. On the other hand, a counterfeit aims to deceive the buyer by using logos and trademarks that make the buyer think they are getting the true product. So which is clearly illegal – counterfeits.

Between the two types of products, a knockoff is just that: a cheap imitation. Counterfeits, on the other hand, may trick the buyer into believing that the product is an original from the designer whose name appears on the product.  Instead, they have purchased a lower quality product. Typically, the buyer is viewed as a victim of deceit.

Selling counterfeit products can also tarnish the reputation of the genuine manufacturer because their trademark is being placed on inferior goods.  Some of these manufacturers have begun fighting back by filing lawsuits and hiring investigators to build a case.

But what if the product is clearly marked with the designation “Fake” or “Replica”? This does not change anything. It is still illegal to sell these products.

Here is an example of the difference. If you have been to New York City, then you have seen the street vendors selling their goods. They may not be on display, but you might have a vendor say, “Hey, I have Rolex watches.” We all know he is not selling real Rolex watches on the streets of New York. If the watches have a look-a-like Rolex logo on them – they are counterfeits. That is why he doesn’t put them out on display. It’s the same with purses, shoes, etc.

These counterfeit products are a large industry in the United States and can be difficult to police in many instances – especially online.  However, this does not mean that you will not be caught. According to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition there were 23,140 IPR-related seizures in 2014 totaling $1.22 billion and the numbers keep rising.

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