Counterfeit goods: the crackdown

Counterfeit goods are on the rise.

OECD reports have indicated that trade in fake goods has continued to rise from the already soaring 3.3% of world trade in 2016. A little over 30% of British consumers aged between 18 and 34 purchased counterfeit goods during the reporting period (2020-2021). However, recent events in Manchester demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to counterfeiting. This blog post reflects on the Manchester raid and the issue of counterfeiting in the UK generally.

The bust:

In December 2021 police officers raided the counterfeit goods market in Manchester. The value of the goods seized was estimated to be between £1-3million. This included clothing, bags, perfume and accessories.

The problem:

Buying counterfeit goods doesn’t end at buying the bag or the perfume, it feeds into bigger issues such as child labour and organised crime. Officers involved in the raid highlighted the deep-rooted issues of counterfeit goods:

Inspector William Jennings asserted:

“Counterfeit goods are not a victimless crime… they are funding a wider picture that involves money laundering, organised crime and cheap labour.

A council spokesperson also emphasised the problem:

“Counterfeit crime runs far deeper than just the sale of knock-off coats and handbags. There are deep links to other criminal enterprises and the sale of fake goods only puts money in the hands of criminals.

Other sources have also highlighted the links of counterfeit crime with substandard working conditions and sometimes use of child labour’ and the strong link between counterfeiting and transnational organized crime. The issues with counterfeit goods do not end there, there are an abundance of other implications such as:

  • Damaging an authentic brand’s reputation
  • Harming the goodwill between the authentic brand and its business partners
  • The loss of global employment caused by counterfeiting is estimated at 2.5 million jobs.

Overall, this demonstrates that IP infringements are not just stealing a logo or picture, the roots run deeper into organised crime and inexpensive labour. Solving the problem of counterfeit goods is detrimental to society as a whole.

Who is behind ensuring IP infringements remain at a low rate?

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has been described as the ‘national lead force for fraud’. The unit was established to investigate and deter organised IP crime within the UK. Since the unit’s creation it has ‘investigated intellectual property crime worth more than £100 million concerning counterfeit goods or digital piracy and suspended more than 30,000 websites selling counterfeit goods’.

The Manchester market raid and the PIPCU unit demonstrates the commitment to tackling IP infringements within the UK. I hope that business owners’ intellectual property will have greater protection, and in doing so, the consequences of criminal enterprises will be dealt with – making society a safer place.  

Problem? The willing consumers

The Intellectual Property Office has highlighted that 23% of purchasers have willingly bought knock-off items. Many people ask: why pay the full price for designer gear when we can buy the look-a-like for a fraction of the price?

One can understand the allure of counterfeit goods. The average price of a luxury bag is £1,410. The average price for a Gucci bag is £1754, and a fake Gucci bag, also known as a ‘dupe’ can be bought for around £50. A consumer can look like they have a designer handbag, without having to pay the hefty price, it’s considered a win-win. However, as the Manchester raid has demonstrated this is not the case.

One route going forward to tackle counterfeit goods would be public education, and increase awareness amongst consumers of the risks and implications of purchasing counterfeit goods. Although the PIPCU is investigating counterfeit crime, willing purchasers present a threat as they willingly feed into the dangerous market, therefore increasing public awareness may be the key to solving counterfeit crime.

This blog post was written by Brooke Connors. Brooke is in her penultimate year of the MLaw degree at Northumbria University and is currently working within one of the Business & Commercial firms within the Student Law Office. Once her degree is completed Brooke hopes to travel, then go into property development.