Design piracy is actually not illegal in the United States. A discount manufacturer or designer’s goods that mimic a luxury brand’s look without displaying the original designer’s name or logo is, in most cases, acceptable. However, the manufacture and sale of a fake designer handbag (for example), complete the original designer’s name and logo is a different matter altogether – it’s an illegal counterfeit good.
Odds are, a tourist strolling down through certain parts of Chinatown in Manhattan will likely be met by seedy merchants offering counterfeit goods. Much like any illegal purchase, buying a counterfeit Chanel handbag can take you to a shadowy back ally or up a dark stairway to a small room full of fake designer goods. However, in some cities, like Shanghai, these counterfeit goods can be found in a regular shopping mall.
The Han City Fashion & Accessories Plaza in Shanghai has, since 2006, been a tourist destination, where you could purchase cheap counterfeit goods – anything from counterfeit Tory Burch and Michael Kors goods to North Face backpacks. Lonely Planet’s website describes Han City as “a popular location to pick up knock offs, with hundreds of stalls spread across four floors,” and encourages tourists to “scavenge for bags, belts, jackets, shoes, suitcases, sunglasses, ties, T-shirts, DVDs and electronics.” Han City is perhaps the most brazen of Shanghai’s counterfeit markets, just down the street from luxury stores carrying genuine versions of the counterfeit merchandise sold in the mall.
Yet, it seems as though Han City’s decade long streak may be coming to an end. Citing pressure from the “adverse effects” of online counterfeit sales and the Chinese government’s increased focus on intellectual property rights, Han City’s landlord announced that Han City would be closing at the end of June. A number of retailers have vacated, citing increased government pressure, including weekly visits from officers of Shanghai’s Municipal Administration for Industry and Commerce. As of August, some counterfeit retailers remained open, but probably not for long, as the mall changed management at the end of July, and many vendors believe the new management team plans to bring in legitimate vendors and raise rents. While there is still a long way to go to stamp out all of the counterfeit markets in Shanghai, the closure of Han City is a victory for both the government and luxury brands facing the unending battle to protect their rights.