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Fines for Fakes

Italy's war on counterfeit products gives a new meaning to "caveat emptor."


ABOVE: If your ten-euro gondolier hat bears a Prada label, keep an eye out for the cops.

Looking for a fake Prada? An phony Gucci? An ersatz Louis Vuitton? A pirated copy of Mission Impossible or Microsoft Word? Street vendors in Italy (most of whom are from Senegal) will be happy to accommodate you, but watch out: A law makes buyers of counterfeit goods liable for fines of €3333 to €10000, and some tourists have already learned that Italian police can be a more expensive threat than purse-snatchers and pickpockets.

A Reuters news story quoted the deputy mayor of Venice as stating that "Our fight against the illegal street trade is untiring." That statement may be hyperbole, to judge from Venice's sporadic enforcement of previous laws against street vendors, but the fact remains that a few unsuspecting tourists have been nabbed and whacked with huge fines.

Ironically, some of the knockoffs that Italy's authorities are trying to discourage are produced by moonlighting employees of the designers' own factories.

 To make matters more complicated, the Italian Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that counterfeiting isn't a crime unless the buyer thinks the counterfeited item is the real thing--which is unlikely if the Vuitton or Prada lookalike is being sold from a rug in the Calle Larga XXII Marzo.

Still, with Italy's annual sales of fake goods estimated at four to six billion euros, the authorities are under growing international pressure to bring counterfeiting and piracy under control.

As a result, the expression "Let the buyer beware" has a new meaning--and unlucky tourists who run afoul of the law may wish they'd bought the real thing instead of a 10,000-euro knockoff.

Also see:
Illegal Street Vendors - "vu compra"