You may wear $35 Gucci knockoff shoes and pretend they are $200, but is it really cool?
Counterfeit products have been tremendously widespread over the past few years in Canada. Pirated handbags, watches and electronics are frequently sold at flea markets and discount stores, and the counterfeit shoe industry has bloomed as well.
In large cities like Toronto, there is a huge customer demand for knockoff shoes because of their inexpensive price, says Sgt. Sylvain St-Jean of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
“People want to get the best deals and pay next to nothing for knockoff products that would normally cost hundreds and sometime thousands of dollars. So it’s not difficult to find street vendors selling counterfeit shoes in cities,” St-Jean said.
There have been many lawsuits of counterfeit shoes involving large companies. Large dollar store chains and convenience stores have been sued for selling pirated shoes, anti-counterfeiting attorney Lorne Lipkus said.
Although they acknowledge the number of counterfeit shoes grows yearly, customs and the RCMP are often reluctant to deal with the cases due to a lack of resources and difficulties with Canadian laws.
“Sometime evidence isn’t easy to get. The investigation is more complex and requires more resources,” St-Jean said.
Two laws, the Copyright Act and the Trademark Act, cause difficulty in the prosecution process.
“If the shoes have a picture of Mickey Mouse, that’s protected by copyright. It’s easier for customs and the RCMP to seize the goods because laws under the Copyright Act make it illegal to import fake goods protected by copyright.
On the other hand, the same type of law does not exist for imported trademark goods.
“If the name ‘Nike’ is on it, it’s protected by trademark. Police prefer not to work on such cases because those investigations are time-consuming,” Lipkus said.
Therefore, shop owners selling counterfeit shoes sometime avoid criminal charges. The government has to improve the laws and increase resources for police officers, Lipkus says.
Most counterfeit shoes are manufactured and secretly shipped from East Asian countries, mainly China. The Internet shopping has made them easily accessible to customers in recent years.
Changxing Du, a representative of Sohob2b Trade Co., in Guangzhou China, sells counterfeit shoes internationally along with other products on his own website. For 20 years, he and his partner have successfully expanded their business.
“Most of our clients are in North America or Europe. I believe they are satisfied with our service,” Du said.
“I am not concerned with investigation by the police or legal punishment by the government or international agencies. I don’t think they even bother to check our website because there are so many knockoff products out there,” he added.
The common perception that China is associated with pirated goods has had a destructive impact on legitimate businesses run by the Chinese.
Fred, an owner of First String Sports at Pacific Mall who did not reveal his surname, has constantly faced customer’s suspicion about the authenticity of shoes sold in his store.
“We sell authentic shoes, but customers frequently ask me if those shoes are real or not, because they don’t believe that small independent stores the size of mine can get authentic brand shoes. They only trust big companies,” Fred said.
Fred says his Chinese identity is the issue as well since many customers have a bias against China.
“During past few years, the number of stores producing counterfeit DVDs has been extended in Chinatown and Chinese malls. So, many customers tend to associate China with fake goods,” he added.
To clarify the legitimacy of his products, he lately posted the sign “100% Guaranteed Authentic: We are authorized dealer of a number of brand names and only sell original, authentic products.”
Even some customers frequently ask Fred where they can get counterfeit shoes. Fred says he never gives them any information and is not afraid of making them upset because they are not the type of his customer.
He warns that while flea markets sell them at less than half the price of original ones, they have small selections. Such shoes, in fact, threaten customer’s safety and health.
“There are often spelling and grammatical errors on the boxes. They don’t meet Canadian safety standards. In purchasing them, you can suffer from damage to knees or ankles,” Fred said.
Lipkus recommends the government offer consumer awareness education as purchasing counterfeit shoes also supports other criminal offenses.
“It is not illegal to purchase or possess knockoff shoes for personal use, but the fact is that counterfeiting is actually linked to organized crime, terrorism, and sweatshops. Consumers should not help those criminal activities,” he added.
“Consumers should be educated by the government and by companies. Counterfeiting will not disappear if there are eager consumers for knockoff shoes.”