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By Samuel Dunsiger

When fourth-year business management student Daniel Torres feels like watching a movie, he goes to Pacific Mall in Markham and buys bootlegged DVDs. The latest in his collection is I Am Legend.

“Why watch a movie that I’m iffy about in theatres when I can watch it at home for a fraction of the price?” he asks. “When it comes to products like movies and electronics, counterfeits are usually at par nowadays. The more bang for your buck is a very influential factor.”

A recent Pollara poll found that two out of every five Canadians say they’ve bought counterfeit items. Students are especially tempted to pursue the good deals offered by counterfeiters.

Walking in Pacific Mall last summer, Rosanna Lee was also drawn to the three for $10 bootleg DVD deals.

“We happen to live in a society that supports free competition in the business industry with a ‘best price, best value’ motto,” Lee, a second-year food and nutrition student, said.

Avner Levin, chair of law at the Ted Rogers School of Management, says one of the reasons why students like Torres and Lee buy fake goods is that it stems from their online behaviour.

“People download music and movies on the Internet all the time. They see that it’s not a problem and the attitude extends to goods in the real world,” Levin explains. “Students are spending a lot of time online and getting free stuff. Then they go out and wonder why they have to pay so much money for something they can get really cheap.”

According to reports by the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network (CACN), products are considered to be counterfeit if they “are obviously deceptive copies of existing products, and products that display well-known logos or brands such that it is obvious that they are, in fact, unauthorized reproductions of those trademarks.”

Purchasing counterfeit goods, however, will not have any legal repercussions unless the buyer sells it for a profit.

Lorne Lipkus, an anti-counterfeiting attorney and member of the CACN, says that students aren’t aware of the consequences of purchasing fake goods.

“They’re in effect supporting criminals and encouraging them to commit other crimes,” he says. “They don’t realize that the counterfeiters selling these products are usually involved in other crimes as well.”

Brian Isaac, chair of the Legislation Committee of the CACN, adds that people don’t think about where their money’s going. “When you’re buying a Louis Vuitton bag, you don’t think you’re hurting anyone,” he says, adding that there are toys with lead-based toxins, medications with toxins and even clothes with toxins in the material. “There was a woman in Victoria who died last spring from taking counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs which were mixed with a toxic metal.”

Last December, Marcia Bergeron, 58, of Quadra Island, B.C., died from metal poisoning found in anti-anxiety pills she bought from a fake Canadian online pharmacy. No charges were ever made, according to Isaac.

But consumers might not be the only victims. “People don’t appreciate the effect counterfeiting has on the economy and people’s jobs. I remember speaking to a gentleman who sells licensed sportswear,” Carol Osmond, vice-chair of the CACN, said. “Around Christmas time, somebody set up a counterfeit shop near him and almost smoked him out of business.”

There has been a rise of counterfeit goods floating around the city. Lipkus says counterfeiters duplicate every product imaginable. “At first it’s been things like T-shirts and watches,” he says. “Now, it’s virtually everything we know like luxury bags, clothing, toys, foods, wines, appliances, inkjet cartridges for printing, pharmaceuticals and even heart medications. We’ve even had things like shampoo that had E-coli in it.”

In the past, counterfeit goods were available solely at flea markets and street vendors. Now, they’re sold at well-known retailers in shopping malls like Pacific Mall where Lee and Torres do their shopping. When reached, representatives at Pacific Mall declined to comment.

Sgt. Sylvain St-Jean, an officer of intellectual property crimes with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, notes that the counterfeit industry has grown tremendously in recent years. Intellectual property crimes involve the creation of unauthorized knock-offs of legitimate products belonging to a brand or company. The CBC recently reported that the RCMP now conducts more than 400 investigations into counterfeit goods each year. The rise has to do with more people realizing the profits of intellectual property crimes, St-Jean says.

On Aug. 28, 2006, the RCMP seized 47,500 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes in Scarborough, Ont. worth about $2.1 million. The cigarettes were fake versions of popular Canadian brands such as Du Maurier and Players’ Light. Police suggest the ring was linked to organized crime and the cigarettes came from China. Three Toronto men were charged with unlawful possession of tobacco products.

The CACN argues that Canada’s current laws are too lax, with offenders typically fined less than $10,000 and serve little to no jail time. “Somebody can make $40,000 from counterfeiting and when they go to court, they only lose $5,000,” Sgt. St-Jean said. “So it’s not that good. People keep doing it even after they were caught and let out because they see the profit was so high that they’re not afraid of the risks.”

Osmond says she sees most imported counterfeit goods coming from Asia, namely China, but adds that India, Eastern Europe, Russia and the United States also export fake goods. And while most goods from Asia arrive here by ship, Osmond says that recently, U.S. customs officials have raised concerns of smaller, harder-to-detect shipments of counterfeit goods coming by plane.

St.-Jean says the products head to big cities like Toronto, a hot spot for counterfeiters. “The more people you have in one city, the bigger the demand is for a product. This helps counterfeiters who will go to the big cities for their share of a profit,” he said, estimating that there are about 20,000 fake copies of a product in a big city like Toronto.

There is also a lot travelling and mobility in the big cities, making it easier to import goods into the city, he adds.

Osmond says that another problem with the laws that they don’t give custom officials the authority to check imported goods at the border. If they come across goods suspected of being counterfeit, they have to report it to the RCMP, the only people with the authority to check imports. Osmond describes this is as a slow-moving and unnecessary process, which she says can be rectified with a law granting power to customs officials. She adds that this allows a lot of counterfeit goods to get through. “Most counterfeit goods are imported here and once they’re in the market, they’re quite difficult to track down.”

Once in the market, the price of these goods is what attracts students since they live on a tight budget, Isaac says.

Torres says that, as a student, he tends to be frugal at times, buying cheaper products that will help him save money.

“It all depends on the situation and what I’m buying. My reason for buying such products is to make things easier on myself with the least amount of effort,” he says.

For those reasons, he’ll continue to buy knock-offs despite the consequences. In fact, he already has his eyes on Alien vs. Predator.

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