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Can I Get In Trouble for Selling Counterfeit Merchandise?

In the U.S., it's illegal for a person to sell counterfeit merchandise. Both state and federal laws prohibit this type of conduct. If you knowingly sell or intend to sell a fake item, you could be sentenced to years in prison and/or be ordered to pay steep fines. In Florida, the exact penalties you could face depend on the number or value of the items you sold and the facts of your situation.

What Is a Trademark?

To better understand what it means to counterfeit an item, it's essential to know what a trademark is. A trademark is a symbol, word, name, or device that identifies a business or individual as the owner of specific goods. If the individual or company provides services (as opposed to goods) the mark is called a service mark. In this blog, for the sake of simplicity, we'll refer to both as trademarks.

When a symbol is trademarked, that means others cannot use it. If they do so, they are violating the law and could be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

What's a Counterfeit?

When something is counterfeit, the trademarked item is copied so closely, it could pass as an original. For instance, say you notice that a particular designer makes handbags that sell for hundreds of dollars. You decide to cash in on the opportunity to make some extra money by reproducing the designer's recognizable symbol and attaching it to handbags you made. In this scenario, you are counterfeiting the trademark.

The hypothetical example used above refers to counterfeiting a handbag, but the statutes prohibiting selling forged branded items apply to any type of merchandise or services, such as shoes, watches, or cell phones.

What Are the Penalties for Selling Counterfeit Items?

Under Florida law, selling counterfeit merchandise is a misdemeanor or felony. The level and degree to which this crime is charged depend on the number and amount of item sold, as well as whether injury or death resulting from the commission of the offense.

The potential conviction penalties include:

  • First-degree misdemeanor: In general, selling a counterfeit item is a first-degree misdemeanor. It's punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
  • Third-degree felony: The offense increases to a third-degree felony when between 100 and 999 counterfeit items are involved or the retail value of the goods or services is more than $2,500 but less than $20,000. It is also charged at this level and degree if bodily injury occurred during the commission of the crime. A third-degree felony results in up to 5 years in prison and/or up to $5,000 in fines.
  • Second-degree felony: Selling counterfeit items results in a second-degree felony when 1,000 or more items were sold or when the value of the goods was $20,000 or more. Additionally, this level and degree is levied when serious bodily injury resulted from the offense. The conviction penalties include up to 15 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
  • First-degree felony: A person could be charged with a first-degree felony for selling counterfeit merchandise if their actions resulted in the death of another. A conviction can lead to up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

For a first-time offense, the federal penalties include a maximum fine of $2 million and/or a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years. Second and subsequent offenses are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or up to $5 million in fines.

Have you been charged with a state or federal crime? Our Fort Lauderdale attorneys at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. will provide the zealous advocacy you need to fight your charges. To get started on your defense, call us at (954) 840-8713 or contact us online.