A decade ago, when I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I tagged along with Chris Johnson, an attorney representing True Religion jeans, as he searched for counterfeits in the stores of Santee Alley, Los Angeles’s hub for knockoffs. We’d go into a store undercover, look around, and ask if they sold any True Religion jeans. The store owner would sometimes lead us into a back room where the fakes were kept, and Johnson would buy them, and then inspect the jeans and see if they were indeed counterfeit.
Today, though, the process of finding people and businesses selling counterfeit versions of your product is much, much more difficult. The rise of e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay have essentially helped created millions of such stores online—a seemingly infinite number of doors to knock on to check for fakes. Shut down one storefront for selling counterfeits, and the seller can just create a new account and open a new store. “Amazon has made it extraordinarily difficult to enforce against counterfeiters,” Johnson, who now works on online anti-piracy cases with the law firm Johnson and Pham, told me recently.
Of course, the problem is not limited to Amazon. E-commerce sites like eBay, Newegg, and Walmart.com have also been accused of selling counterfeits. (All say they have strict procedures to remove offending products from their websites, and that they vociferously fight against counterfeits.) Still, e-commerce sales through third-party platforms have resulted in “a sharp increase” of small packages being shipped to the United States, which has also led to a rise in knockoffs, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In 2007, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recorded 13,657 seizures of goods that violated intellectual property rights. Last year, the agencies recorded 34,143 seizures.