Net shopping means unending flow of counterfeit brand-name goods


Staff Writer

Luxury-brand bags, watches and shoes can easily be purchased on the Internet along with their cheaper counterfeit counterparts, which are illegal but nonetheless widespread.

Customs officials in recent years have made record seizures of counterfeit luxury-brand products imported from abroad.

Why are so many fake goods coming into Japan and which ones are in hot demand?

Following are questions and answers regarding the recent inflow of foreign counterfeit goods:

How many times have counterfeit goods been seized on entry?

Last year saw 23,280 cases of seizures recorded, the second-highest amount after 26,415 in 2008.

The figure has been above 20,000 for five years in a row, according to a poll by the Finance Ministry, which supervises the customs bureaus.

The 728,234 total imported items seized last year reflects a 15.5 percent increase from a year earlier.

They rose sharply, partly because fake goods expanded to include more items in daily use, such as iPhone cases boasting bogus brands, said Kiyoshi Nakabayashi, a senior Finance Ministry official in charge of customs operations.

Why have counterfeit seizures set records in recent years?

The surge has been attributed to the spread of online shopping, with many sources engaged in illegal sales not based in Japan.

The government set up the Cross-Border Consumer Center Japan under the Consumer Affairs Agency in November to handle problematic cross-border commerce, including online sales.

The CCJ said consumer complaints had exceeded 1,000 as of the end of May, with about 30 percent of them involving pirated goods.

“Every month saw an increase in complaints, indicating the center is gaining more widespread recognition from consumers,” said Kazunori Shimizu, a CCJ official.

In addition to the popularity of Internet shopping, more consumers are purchasing foreign luxury items online to exploit the yen’s strength, Shimizu said.

The survey backs this trend.

Counterfeit goods purchased from sites based offshore are usually shipped via air mail. Last year, 94 percent of all cases in which bogus goods were seized involved air mail, down slightly from 95.9 percent the previous year.

Despite the rampant problem, it is hard for the government to regulate websites hawking pirated goods because the sites use computer servers outside Japan and are beyond the reach of its laws banning the display of illegal information on the Internet, Shimizu said.

Where are the counterfeit goods manufactured?

China is the source of most pirated goods now, replacing South Korea.

Customs recorded 21,235 times things were seized upon arrival from China last year, or 91.2 percent of the total, followed by 703 from Hong Kong. The Philippines was the source of 488, or 2.1 percent of overall seizure cases.

The flow of illegal goods from China has grown for the past five years. In 2006, China was the source of just 48.2 percent of seizure cases.

The number of such cases originating in South Korea fell to 1.9 percent last year from 44.5 percent in 2006 as a result of Seoul’s efforts to strictly check exports, Nakabayashi of the Finance Ministry said.

Officials said few counterfeit items are made in Japan because labor costs are too high, hence they are imported.

Why are fake goods illegal?

Counterfeits infringe on laws protecting intellectual property rights, trademark rights, copyrights and design rights.

Violators of laws against counterfeits can face a prison term of up to 10 years or a fine upward of ¥10 million.

There are, however, many people who apparently only learn they have purchased a bogus item when informed by customs officials. The officials routinely alert online shoppers to be cautious when the price of brand goods shown on websites undercut the prices set by bona fide manufacturers.

What kinds of goods are seized by customs officials?

Last year handbags and wallets topped the list of seizures, followed by clothes and shoes. But pirated clothing, accessories and cellphone covers are on the rise.

Major cases include the seizure of 50,891 counterfeit luxury -brand wallets imported from South Korea in 2009. The goods arrived at Osaka port aboard a containership from China.

In 2010, Japanese attempted to illegally import 67 items copying Nintendo’s game gadgets and 136 items copying Sony Computer Entertainment gadgets.

Are any steps being taken to stem the inflow of fake goods?

The government called for other countries to sign the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

It is a multinational treaty for the purpose of establishing international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement. The agreement aims to establish an international legal framework for targeting counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringements on the Internet, and would create a new governing body outside existing forums, including the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations.

The agreement was signed last October by Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States, followed by European countries in 2012.

But the agreement faced opposition. People criticized the treaty as a threat to fundamental rights and access to knowledge. Since the start of this year, protesters in Germany and other countries have reportedly held anti-ACTA rallies.

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