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Authorities wage war on citizen pirates

Fighting couterfeiting and piracy is an expensive business for Swiss watchmakers Keystone

A Hermès handbag picked up for next to nothing in Beijing or an Albanian Rolex - from Tuesday it will be more difficult to bring items like these into Switzerland.

This content was published on July 1, 2008 - 08:24

Counterfeited and pirated goods entering, leaving or passing through Switzerland are subject to stricter legislation as of July 1.

"Counterfeited products should no longer circulate from July 1," Felix Addor, Deputy Director-General for the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property told swissinfo. The problem costs the Swiss economy roughly SFr2 billion ($1.96 billion) annually.

The regulations now place Switzerland on a roughly equal footing with its European Union neighbours.

Under parliament's amendment of the federal copyright legislation, border guards may now target casual travellers entering Switzerland with knock-off products, as well as goods in transit.

The measures expand on existing laws, which had allowed customs authorities to confiscate and destroy counterfeit goods, but only for commercial shipments.

On Tuesday morning, authorities symbolically destroyed 28,427 counterfeit watches and 4,130 DVDs in canton Friburg.

Suspicion

"We need only to have the suspicion that something is fake," Karin Märki of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration told swissinfo. "And then we can seize the good."

The anti-piracy regulations are entering into force on the back of a high-profile public awareness campaign, says Addor.

The Consumer Protection Association acknowledges there is a problem, but says nobody knows the rules. It had hoped for more publicity given the broad net the new regulations cast.

"The laws will criminalise individuals," said Sara Stalder, a spokeswoman for the group. "It will target people who have perhaps bought a souvenir and ended up with a fake."

"There must be more information given out. In travel agencies and at customs; people leaving the country and then coming in with goods need to know what can happen. And for that, there needs to be a lot of information."

Civil liberties lawyer Viktor Györffy of Zurich-based grunderecht.ch says he remembers little public discussion about the rules, or of the power of customs officers in general. "I don't see why customs should have unlimited powers to search people," he told swissinfo.

"The interest for customs to search somebody must be big enough," he said. "If it's just about fake Rolexes, I don't think it's justified."

"An important step"

For Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, it's an important step.

The trade association, which represents around 90 per cent of the country's watch manufacturers, says there are more than 40 million counterfeit Swiss watches manufactured each year. Around 21 million real Swiss watches are shipped annually, it says.

Pasche told swissinfo the industry spends several million francs each year tracking counterfeit goods, but that every company spends an undisclosed sum each year fighting piracy. "All the famous Swiss watch brands are counterfeited," he said.

He says most are produced in China but more high-end fakes, close to indistinguishable from the real thing, are entering the country from Italy and Turkey. Prices range from $20-30 to thousands of dollars.

"The price is not an indication of the fact that it is a fake," Pasche said. "The price is not far from the genuine price, with a discount of perhaps 30 per cent."

Intellectual property

While authorities here hope the measures and a high profile awareness campaign will hit demand for illicit goods, Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has signed memorandums of understanding both with China and India to protect intellectual property.

China says it does much to detect and crack down on producers, but Addor says Beijing's assessment is that counterfeiting only happens because there is a demand for these products and people can buy them and import them and nothing at all is done.

"So it was also for credibility that we introduced this new legislation," he adds. "And I'm sure that after we've cleaned the house in Switzerland, we are much more credible to continue the discussions and negotiations with China and India."

Addor says piracy and counterfeiting are the final link in a chain of criminal activity.

"It is organised crime, which tries to make money and especially tries to wash dirty money by selling counterfeits and then exchanging this money which they got from other businesses such as selling weapons or drugs or trafficking women."

"Apart from the counterfeiters themselves, there are only losers," he said.

swissinfo, Justin Häne

Inspection process

A private citizen suspected of importing counterfeited or pirated goods has two options.

If a good is pirated – and its owner admits it – he or she can sign a waiver and release the item to be destroyed by authorities. The matter is then concluded.

The owner can also challenge customs officials, setting in motion an inspection process of 10-20 days.

In this case, the item is turned over to the holder of the copyright or trademark for inspection. If deemed to be a fake, charges can be filed.

At that point, the owner can still admit the product is a counterfeit and pay an inspection fee.

Otherwise, the matter proceeds through standard legal channels.

If item is deemed genuine, it is returned to the owner free of charge.

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Faking it

The World Economic Forum estimates the global piracy market to be worth around $400 billion, according to a 2004 survey.

In Switzerland, 89% of the SFr2 billion in pirated goods seized in 2007 were clothing and accessories. 77% of all fakes came from Asia.

Apart from watches, clothing and accessories, and software, STOP PIRACY says other commonly counterfeited items include:

· Medicines
· Mechanical automotive parts
· Food
· Tobacco
· Toys
· Perfumes, cosmetics, and bodycare products.

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