AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Counterfeit goods



Counterfeit goods are anything which are a copy of something else and are sold as if they were the genuine article. Counterfeit goods are a huge problem and they are becoming more widely available. With relatively sophisticated manufacturing techniques, counterfeiters are able to make large quantities of accurate copies for relatively little money.

What are the most common fakes?

  • Designer labelled clothes, watches, perfume and cosmetics.
  • Alcohol.
  • CDs, DVDs, video and audio tapes.
  • Computer software, such as games.
  • Vehicle parts.
  • DIY tools.

What the law says

It is unlawful to apply a registered trademark to goods, or to make an exact copy of goods that have the benefit of a registered trademark registration, without the permission of the trademark owner.

Even where goods are not subject to a trademark registration, it is sometimes still possible to bring an action against someone making copies of goods, or attaching marks to goods, without the permission of the person already trading in those goods and associated marks. This is called a "passing-off" action.

Copyright may exist in certain goods, such as artistic designs on clothing, computer programs, CDs, DVDs and other electronic media. An infringement of copyright may occur where such goods are copied without the permission of the copyright owner.

Infringing goods are generally known as 'counterfeit' or 'pirated' goods.

Avoid buying counterfeit goods

Top tips to avoid buying fakes include:

  • Be suspicious about bargains. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Find out if you have any guarantees or after-sales service.
  • Examine the quality of the goods.
  • Check labels and packaging for misspellings and poor logos.
  • Take extra care at street markets, car boot sales, pubs and computer fairs, or in other situations where it may be more difficult to get in touch with the trader after the purchase.
  • You should also guard against buying fakes on the Internet.

Reasons why you should avoid buying counterfeits

There are lots of reasons why you should not buy fakes, some of which you may not have considered before.

  • The goods may be dangerous - from cosmetics that can cause skin rashes to fake car parts that may cause accidents.
  • A lot of fake goods fund drug dealers and other organised crime - even terrorism.
  • You may end up paying higher taxes, because people who deal in fakes don't - consumers like you may have to make up the difference.
  • You may be putting local people out of jobs, because genuine manufacturers can't compete with the criminals making and selling fakes.
  • If you buy fake goods and they don't live up to your expectations, you won't get any after-sales service or guarantees.
  • Fake goods deprive the copyright owner of money which could be used to fund new development.

What you can do about counterfeit goods

The Alliance Against IP Theft is a coalition of British trade associations and industry enforcement organisations with an interest in preventing counterfeiting and piracy in the UK. It aims to help legitimate business flourish, so that consumers are not put at risk by exposure to substandard and potentially dangerous merchandise.

The Government Intellectual Property website has further advice on how to avoid buying fakes.