Purchasing Counterfeit Products Makes Buyer Complicit in Illegal Activities

With the proliferation of online shopping, transactions involving fake luxury products manufactured mainly in China have become rampant in Japan. There must be stronger border measures and monitoring of the online market to prevent the influx of fake items.

In 2022, the number of counterfeit and imitation goods, including fake luxury products, that were seized by customs offices nationwide rose 7.7% from the previous year to about 880,000 items. This represented the second consecutive year-on-year increase. Small-lot imports, including those for individuals, are increasing.

Unauthorized replicas of the uniforms worn by the Japanese national team at the soccer World Cup in Qatar last year were said to be among the items seized in 2022.

Online retailers are selling counterfeits of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes with seemingly no hesitation. There are many websites that specialize in such products.

Many are based in China and label their wares as “supercopies,” touting the elaborate workmanship that makes the products indistinguishable from the real thing. There is no end to the number of consumers who are lured by the low prices, and some even resell their purchases for a profit.

Fake luxury items are created through illegal activities that infringe on trademark rights, copyrights and other rights. They take profits from the companies that manufacture and sell genuine products, and tarnish their brands. It is an unforgivable act.

The companies that make the genuine products are estimated to lose hundreds of billions of yen annually. In some cases, sales of fake products become a source of funding for criminal organizations.

Consumers must be aware that purchasing fake brand-name products makes them complicit in illegal activities.

One factor behind the soaring influx of counterfeit goods is the lack of legal restrictions. Until last September, importing counterfeit brand-name goods by mail from overseas businesses for personal use was not subject to injunction.

As a result of the government’s efforts to revise the laws, it is now possible to confiscate such goods at customs on the grounds that the purchase constitutes an infringement of intellectual property rights, even if the goods are intended for personal use. Confiscation cannot be avoided even if the buyer is unaware that the product is counterfeit, and payment will not be refunded.

Consumers will now have to carefully assess whether they are buying genuine luxury goods from overseas businesses.

However, if China, Southeast Asian nations and other countries do not strictly control the manufacture and export of counterfeit luxury items, Japan will be limited in what it can accomplish, no matter how much it strengthens its border measures.

China is especially lagging behind in the development of domestic legislation to protect intellectual property rights, and even where systems are in place, problems have been cited with their operation and effectiveness.

The Japanese government should work with the United States and European countries to strongly urge China to take effective measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2023)