A counterfeit handbag is basically a fake brand-name purse. Counterfeit bags and purses are made to look nearly identical to the original, pricier versions. These handbags are sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars less than the authentic designer brand.
When you think of counterfeit, knockoff, and fake designer handbags, you probably picture streets full of vendors and tables of what look like elegant, high-end bags offered for the same price as yesterday’s dinner.
That still happens daily, but the fake handbag industry has gone far beyond street vendors. Aided by international trade globalization, the internet, and social media, fake bag sellers bilk consumers out of billions of dollars every year. Total counterfeiting globally was estimated at over $1.8 trillion in 2020.
The Top Five Most Counterfeited Handbag Brands and What Makes Them Stand Out:
- Louis Vuitton. Vuitton has the most counterfeited handbags online, and their bags are the easiest to copy. Louis Vuitton is by far the most counterfeited handbag company in the world.
- Chanel bags are the most counterfeited handbags in New York City, which is the world’s hotbed for buying and selling fake purses.
- Gucci is widely counterfeited but is also known for having very aggressive lawyers protecting its trademarks. Gucci has made it a mission to attempt to take down as many counterfeiting handbag websites as possible. Gucci even sued a credit card processor for processing credit cards from fake handbag websites.
- Hermes. Counterfeits of The Birkin Bag are known for having the biggest price differential between the original (average of $25,000) and the fake (about $50).
- Yves Saint Laurent (YSL). This bag is considered the poorest quality counterfeit that you can buy.
Is it Illegal to Buy or Sell Counterfeit Handbags?
Let’s deal with the first question first. It is not illegal to accidentally buy counterfeit items. However, purchasing counterfeit goods is illegal if you plan on reselling them for a profit without letting your customers know they are fake.
Concerning selling counterfeit goods, there are two primary federal laws to protect against and punish those that make and sell counterfeit products, including handbags. These are the “Lanham Act” and the “Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act.”
The ”Lanham Act” is the primary federal trademark statute in the United States. The Act prohibits several activities, including trademark infringement, dilution, and false advertising. This comes into play here because every manufacturer of the original handbags has trademark rights – those are rights to their business name, product name, tagline, or logo. Trademarks are words, phrases, symbols, or sounds that they use to identify their business.
The “Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act” prohibits attaching brand-name labels onto generic items or presenting low-quality items as brand-name products. The Act requires that counterfeit goods be seized and destroyed by law enforcement officials. It also calls for any tools or other property made to create the counterfeit goods to be forfeited.
What Constitutes a Counterfeit?
Federal trademark law outlines the necessary factors for a product to be considered counterfeit. This includes:
- Someone knowingly and purposely uses a licensed trademark of a legitimate purse maker and replicates the trademark (which can be, for example, an emblem or mark on the bag)
- The handbag trademark is used without the express permission of the original trademark owner
- The trademark is officially registered with the federal trademark offices
- The fake handbag will most likely create confusion amongst handbag shoppers, which will lead consumers to believe that the original handbag maker endorsed the phony purse
Because there will definitely be trademark violations in the sale of fake purses, it is illegal to manufacture and sell counterfeit handbags.
What are Knockoff Purses?
Sometimes the terms “counterfeit” handbags and “knockoff” handbags are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same.
Counterfeit handbags are typically made with inferior materials and sold on the black market for a fraction of brand-name bags. It is difficult to distinguish between a counterfeit and an original designer purse. Counterfeits are created to look as much like the original handbags as possible.
This is in contrast to “knockoff” bags or replica handbags. While knockoff purses are also most often made with lower-quality materials than the original name-brand bags, in most instances, they are not intended to be exact copies of the original brand. Instead, they are considered a more affordable look-alike than the original designer handbags.
Knockoff bags usually have their brand name, logo, emblem, and more, all of which may be protected by trademark rights. Many knockoff styles can be purchased in reputable department stores.
What are the Criminal Penalties for Counterfeiting or Reselling Fake Designer Handbags?
The criminal penalties for counterfeiting or reselling luxury designer handbags vary and depend on the case’s specific circumstances. A person caught selling, distributing, or manufacturing counterfeit goods can face serious legal penalties under the relevant laws.
For a first offense (subsequent offenses may warrant a longer imprisonment period and a steeper fine), the penalties include the following:
- A prison sentence for a minimum of 5 years, and ranging up to 20 years
- Fines of $500,000 or more
- In addition, anti-counterfeiting laws also permit authorities to seize counterfeit goods, the money from associated sales, and any property or equipment used to distribute illegal items. This means that law enforcement may seize any vehicles used to transport the goods or machinery used to make them.
Some states have their own separate punishments for persons who violate counterfeiting laws.
Where are Counterfeit Designer Purses Made and Sold?
The issue of counterfeit products, such as designer purses, is a global one. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents confiscate tens of thousands of counterfeit goods illegally brought into the country worldwide. In 2021, US customs officers seized a container filled with more than $30 million worth of fake designer bags and clothing at a Los Angeles seaport in a single operation. CBP officers found bags, shirts, and pants bearing counterfeit logos, including Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
Fraudulent goods come into the United States and are sold by individuals or disreputable companies on the internet, open markets, or other storefront operations.
While most counterfeit purses are made overseas (principally in China), there are also counterfeit manufacturers within the United States.
What’s the Harm?
Many wouldn’t pay much attention to the damage caused by fake bags. After all, it’s just a bag – how bad could it be?
The real harm becomes apparent when considering where and how counterfeit handbags are made. Child laborers often make these bags in horrible, inhumane conditions for little or no compensation.
Once the counterfeit bags are sold, the money generated from the sale will likely end up in the hands of criminal organizations. This is because counterfeit handbags are an illegal and highly profitable commodity. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found evidence that the same entities that traffic drugs, people, and weapons, and engage in other illicit activities, are responsible for manufacturing and selling counterfeit designer handbags.
According to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), counterfeits help fund terrorism and corrupt regimes worldwide.
Should I Call a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Counterfeiting is a serious offense with severe and life-long consequences. A knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney can guide you in understanding the legal options available. If you or someone you know has questions regarding the legal process surrounding counterfeit goods, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.