Page last updated at 06:50 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 07:50 UK

Tourists warned over fake goods

Women try and spot the real from fake designer handbag

Holidaymakers could be fined thousands of pounds - or even jailed - for buying fake designer goods when abroad, copyright lawyers are warning.

Authorities in France and Italy are not just targeting those who produce and sell fakes but also those who buy them.

In France, the maximum fine is 300,000 euro (£260,000) or three years in jail.

The UK government has decided against criminalising consumers. Instead it has launched an information campaign aimed at people using markets and boot sales.

Seizures of counterfeit goods on the continent more than doubled in 2008, with customs authorities seizing 178 million fake items - mostly imported from China.

The European Commission is concerned about the growing involvement of organised international criminal gangs.

These are not cheeky chappies making an honest living on a Sunday morning, these are hardened criminals
Susie Winter
Alliance Against Intellectual Property Theft

It says: "Without doubt, one of the principal methods of dispersing counterfeits is the 'ant-like' traffic of tourists returning home from holiday, bringing back souvenirs."

This has prompted some member states to take a harder line.

Intellectual property lawyer Simon Tracey said anyone tempted to bring back items such as fake designer sunglasses, a football top or handbag from their holidays should beware.

He said lots of people have already been fined thousands of euros for owning a fake, and France seemed "a little bit harsher" than Italy.

Dangerous fakes

But he said it was hard to persuade people that owning a fake was "a bad thing".

"The problem is, it is an intellectual theft, so therefore it's much harder to explain to people that it is wrong, but in reality - as a matter of social responsibility - it is just as bad as stealing.

"We all tend to debate the fake bag, we tend not to think about the products that can cause serious harm or kill like fake pharmaceuticals," he added.

If you own an original product the differences actually stand out a mile, particularly on watches.
Conan Hayes, London

John Tuchier, from the Trading Standards Institute, said holidaymakers can easily be caught out by things that "look like a bargain", and shoppers should consider the "safety and quality of a product".

"Some of these counterfeit goods are so good that you might not be aware that the product is counterfeit until an expert actually looks at it and brings it to your attention," he said.

The UK government says legitimate businesses lose an estimated £10bn a year to counterfeiters, with £9bn ending up the hands of gangs.

It also warns that fake alcohol can cause blindness or death, copied toiletries can be harmful and that counterfeit toys or medicines will not have passed safety tests.

Susie Winter, director general of the Alliance Against Intellectual Property Theft - a grouping of creative industry associations, said the UK's counterfeit trade centred around markets.

"We would urge people to think about where their money is going," she said.

"These are not cheeky chappies making an honest living on a Sunday morning, these are hardened criminals."

Many organised criminal gangs exploit child labour, she added.

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