If you’ve ever walked along Canal Street, you probably have a good idea of just how big of a business fake handbags are on the black market in New York City. Even when you’re walking quickly, by yourself, with your sunglasses and headphones on (which are basically all the quick visual cues for “not a tourist, don’t bother me” in NYC), it’s hard to make it more than a few steps down that famous street without hawkers shoving price lists and stock cards in your face. Take your headphones off, and even above the roar of traffic and casual conversation, you can hear people murmuring “handbags, handbags” at every passing body. Those salespeople are out there for a reason – tourists flock to Canal to buy fake designer handbags and watches, which are illegal to sell, but not to purchase. If one New York City councilwoman gets her way, that’s about it change.

It’s always struck me as odd that selling an illegal product is illegal, but purchasing it is not. It’s illegal to purchase or receive stolen goods, after all, and shouldn’t laws on counterfeits function on basically the same principals? The rationale I’ve heard behind the choice not to punish purchasers generally centered on the fact that many, if not most, of them may have no idea that the goods are counterfeit and that it may scare off tourists who want to shop for authentic goods, but that’s always rung false to me. The people, tourists and locals alike, who buy these bags aren’t rubes being duped into wasting their hard-earned money on what they think is a real Louis Vuitton bag or Rolex watch; the goods are sought out, sometimes even by organized tour groups, specifically because they are fake. Everyone knows what’s going on. Buying a bag in a Madison Avenue boutique and buying one in a dingy Chinatown basement are vastly different experiences, and adults should be able to tell the difference.

Simply punishing the people who sell counterfeit products has done little to stem the flow of them into the market, and their presence brings in lots of untaxed, off-the-books economic activity that often benefits organized crime, the drug trade, and sometimes even terrorist groups. If there’s money to be made, especially in a city as brutal and unforgiving as New York, someone’s going to go out there and make it, whether doing so is illegal or not. The best way to dry up a business is to dry up the demand, and that’s exactly what councilman Margaret Chin, who represents Chinatown on the NYC City Council, intends to do so by making the purchase of counterfeit goods a crime. Maybe that fake Speedy doesn’t seem like such a good deal if you also have to pay bail.

According to Chin’s plan, the purchase of counterfeit goods could be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and as much as a year in jail, which would make it a Class A misdemeanor in New York City. According to Chin, the most stringent punishments would be applicable to people who buy in bulk, often to resell to friends back home. In those situations in particular, it’s pretty impossible to argue that those people just got lost on the way to buy authentic products. New York may be overwhelming, but it’s not that bad.

Would you support a law that criminalized the purchase of counterfeit goods?

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  • I’m not from NY, but yes, I would support that. As long as someone’s buying them, someone will keep making and selling them, simple as that. The ideal solution would of course be to catch the huge syndicates that actually fund the production of these goods and profit from their sale, but that requires a huge international effort.

  • FashionableLena

    I would like to see how they plan on policing this and how much it would clog the judicial system. I haven’t been to court in a long time, but I remember how stupid it was to waste the court’s time on a $25 littering fine.
    Unfortunately, these counterfeit goods are just like drugs, if want some bad enough, they’ll always be someone there to supply it.

  • alex

    How would this work? Not everyone can tell the
    different between a real and a fake handbag.

    • Well, not everyone can tell the difference between cocaine and powdered sugar, but people still get arrested for buying the former. I think that it would probably hinge on the action – going to Chinatown and buying something with a designer label in a back room. There’s no reasonable expectation that what’s being sold is a legal product, just like anyone who does a line at a party has no reasonable expectation that what they ingested is a legal substance. Much of the law requires that adults inform themselves about their actions in a reasonable way.

      • Alex Bailey

        They should do the same with replica cars, homes, art, and so forth

  • RoseDahlia

    Counterfeiting is a real problem that need to be addressed. As you say, these items may well be the product of Human Rights violations, and may well fund Drug Cartels and Terrorist Organisations. But so do a lot of other things we willingly pay money for and ignore the consequences of. Alexander Wang, H&M, Top Shop and many more have all been the subject of investigation into their labour practices. We buy food grown by settlers on occupied Palestinian territories and buy fuel from oil companies that cause widespread cancer to native populations through there industrial activities in many african countries; and destroy our natural environment with oils spills and a lot more. This is the world we live in because we are dependent on these people for a certain lifestyle.

    Counterfeit items are also the product of a particular ideology that has emerged out of this lifestyle. I don’t think that anyone can equate buying a counterfeit product to buying cocaine. Its not the same thing. First of i think there is a fine line between what is considered counterfeit and what is “Inspired.” “Inspire” has to be legal so as to prevent a monopoly on a design. Some companies like Apple and Samsung take these thing too far and demonstrate the greed of the major companies that insist on maintaining their monopoly on what essentially an idea. The fact is the smallest alteration to an idea can often even override intellectual property rights.

    And who do you think will be effected most by this kind of law. Not the well off. The rich that want a great fake Hermes will still get what they want in more luxuries surrounding advertised secretly through word of mouth. Essentially what i am saying is you cant stop the ebb and flow of Consumer culture without dealing with the commercial ideologies that compel people to buy the items.

    I recently came to the conclusion that China lax attitude towards counterfeiting is actually a method of ideologically battling capitalism and consumerism. By allowing manufacturers to flood the market with fake “must have” items they take the power out of the product and its marketing. At least in their country.

    Unless we figure out our own way to deal with this issue, there is no viable way of making the purchase of counterfeit item illegal. Plus any law would assume that every buyer is fashion literate. Not every Fake item has a big Gucci or LV label on it, some items are more subtle, but clear fakes.

    Please don’t take this as me advocating buy counterfeit items, I don’t approve of it at all, but i don’t judge. I just think that this issue is a hole lot more complicated then any New York City Council Women Can possibly have comprehended when making such a statement.

    P.S Sorry if this comment was a bit long

    • Suzie

      Great post, RoseDahlia

    • shueaddict

      Very interesting perspective, thanks for the post

  • Michelle

    Heck ya! I’m from Singapore and I live there. I’m sick and tired of seeing people touting fakes on the streets. Don’t buy Lux if you can’t afford it. It’s the aspirational aspect that drives the desire and the market for fakes. I count every bag in my collection as a notch, an achievement I accomplish, when I acquire them on my own accord.

    • shueaddict

      I look at all my bags the same way – each one has been bought after a promotion or a big bonus and I am very proud that I made that much money to spend on a bag. Which is why I hate fakes and people who carry them sooooo much.
      But as long as there is demand the supply will not be far behind.

    • guest

      Really? I always thought that most Singaporeans can afford genuine products and fakes are not in existence in your country at all. Perhaps it’s the perception that Singaporeans can afford luxuries, with ease. This is news to me.

  • thescm

    People know they’re fake, but I don’t think most tourists who buy fake bags realize where the money comes from and goes. They just want a little piece of NYC culture to take home with them, without actually spending the hundreds-thousands of dollars for the genuine article. And since there *are* so many fake bag sellers on the streets, regulation must not be great. How would slamming laws on tourists who buy these things change their availability when making it illegal to sell them has done little to stop the streets from being lined with counterfeit peddlers?

    • keely

      well if theres no demand, there won’t be any supply

      • thescm

        This won’t get rid of demand, it will increase likely useless regulation. Just like the laws on the sellers.

  • Rashida

    More needs to be done to shut these businesses down and stop the people who make them. Not locking up tourists who spend money and contribute to the tax base. Invest in more security and resources as the port!

  • ilovesatchels

    Not everyone cares about what they buy, I hate the fakers and fakes just as much …. because its more gratifying to buy the genuine stuff…I’m not rich… but some people think that if they buy a cheap bag, for $20 then they can just buy another $20 bag in one month, rather than buying a $200 or $2000 bag that will last their life time. I think the drive to buy fakes is that they don’t care what they are buying …. and some people do it for a bit of a laugh….i have a friend who would like to buy a Burbery bag and seeing that I had one, said to me that she can’t see herself spending that much on a bag, and proceeded to show off her fake bag….and she knows its fake,Burbery don’t even make one like that!…my point is , I am not sure how easy it is to make it illegal to purchase counterfeit products.

    • Drea

      This is my thing we are supporting these countries either way even when you buy there products legally isn’t it all the same I mean really what does every one think they are doing with the money when buy cars,clothing,shoes…… I’m sure the purse bag is not there only source

  • Mellow

    What about the internet how will they police that. This is where a lot of people by any way.

  • Shanny

    There will always be a demand. People glorify their luxury
    purchases and the common Joe wants a slice of that. Look at Louis Vuitton; they
    want to have a price increase every few months, do you really believe they are
    thinking of the common consumer? They are fueled by their greed and attempting
    to become even more exclusive.

    It’s very easy to say “Hey you can’t afford Louis Vuitton?
    Then just buy something else or a Michael Kors look alike”. Well, desire doesn’t
    work that way. People want what they want, they thirst after it, and so if they
    can’t afford it because they have a mortgage, 3 kids, college tuition and bills
    to pay they’ll find another way to get their hands on it, even if it’s only 95%
    close to the original. Put another way, you can’t tell a woman, “Stop loving
    Mike & start loving Joe” it’s not that easy.

    As long as the big name companies like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, etc
    keep their products far from reach and don’t offer a reasonable alternative for
    the common consumer, people will find their own way to that handbag of their
    dreams. It’s foolish to think that taking away the purchasing power or
    instilling fines will cease or decrease the sale of counterfeit bags. It’s been
    here and always will.

    I personally don’t mind saving for the real thing. I like
    the experience going into the boutique and putting my hard earned money to
    work. And I also like that idea that I am purchasing a bag that will last and
    that I can pass down to my daughters :) To each their own.

  • nelly

    I don’t buy fake, but I also do not support this potential law. A handbag is a handbag is a handbag. People’s income and livelihood all around the world relies on these types of businesses and they benefit the economy as a whole. People who sell these handbags generally do not have any formal education or training and so to take away sales from them, the one form of work they have mastered, would be devastating and I hope that does not sound out of line. Not to mention, canal street adds to the culture of New York, it brings tourists the sheer enjoyment of buying cheap memorabilia of their excursion – whether they be in the form of a handbag or not. No, I don’t support this law.

    • guest

      I do’t purchase fakes. I’d rather spend it on the cheapest bag I could afford but true to its brand rather than spend it on fakes. I feel that people who wear fakes are fake themselves. Fakery are billion dollar industry which supports terrorism.

  • Richard

    It’s so funny because most if not all the huge bag companies manufacture the bags in other countries and sell there bags at a 4000% mark up. Also 95% of people who buy knock offs will never buy the real thing anyway. It’s not fair to fine and jail consumers, that’s like locking up the homeless for going through the trash. In order for the average person to even know what it may feel like to own a 100000 dollar watch or 10,000 dollar shoes they need alternatives like these to escape from the world they are subjected to . I understand the selling of counterfeit goods lead to other crimes but locking people up is not an option. Do some investigations, follow the trail of money and make the big arrests from the big people making the huge money and not the tourist or native that thought it would be cool to have a Louis Vuitton bag.

  • Dangling_woman

    How about making a law that regulates the cost price of luxury products according to their worth- the money that was actually spent on making them. You know, telling a brand they can’t ask for thousands of dollars for something that took only a few hundred to produce.

    Also, how about a law that limits advertisement of $4,000 bags to people will lower dispensable income?

    Both of them sound shit, right? Too elitist. So does this law. The human is a wanting animal. It is a basic instinct to want to own things you can’t actually afford. To make buying fake bags illegal would be to crush the instinct to desire. It would also mean sealing classes in tighter containers. Only people who would benefit are credit card companies.

    If this law is passed, I see a 1984 world rearing its head. Sorry, total bullshitty law.

  • S

    How would that work? So if my 70-year old grandma just happened to pass by Canal St and purchased a bag without realizing that it was a counterfeit (heck, I don’t think she even knows what Louis Vuitton is), she is going to be fined? So people are going to be penalized for not knowing their ‘luxury brands’?