New York—If you don’t believe New York City law enforcement isn’t cracking down on counterfeit designer luxurygoods, just ask Wing Sun Mak, an employee of a Chinatown store that specializes in selling cardboard, paper and plastic versions of famous brand luxurygoods.
According to The New York Times, police charged Mak with two counts of copyright infringement in the third degree after he allegedly tried to sell cardboard versions of three handbags “that bore a counterfeit trademark Burberry” and one handbag that “bore a fake Louis Vuitton insignia.”
“He asked me, ‘How much is this?’ ” Mak recounted to the Times. “I said $20, and he pulled out his badge and said, ‘Are you selling this to me?’ And then he arrested me.”
Cardboard Designer Goods: ‘Symbolic Gifts for the Deceased’
Although the Chinatown neighborhood and nearby Canal Street are notorious spots for selling counterfeit handbags, sunglasses, watches etc, Mak works at Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, one of the merchants on a section of Mulberry Street known as “Funeral Row.”
In accordance with Chinese custom, the store sells objects of mourning, mostly copies of luxurygoods made of paper, cardboard etc that are used at funerals as “symbolic gifts for the deceased.” The cardboard copies, known as joss, are meant to be burned as tribute to dead ancestors who will receive the items they resemble in the afterlife.
Among the copies sold in the store is everything from cardboard mansions ($400) cardboard flat screen TVs, sakes of money, sports cars, mobile phones–anything that has a status or often a famous brand attachment.
Amy Mak-Chan, one of the store’s owners and Mak’s aunt, said items in the store are given so “when people die, they feel they are going to need things in the next world,”
A Legal Aid attorney assigned to Mak, who spent the night in jail before being arraigned and released, said he planned to fight the charges and refused a plea bargain deal to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and a $100 fine.
Ironically, Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who earlier this year proposed a law that would fine or even jail shoppers who knowingly bought counterfeit luxurygoods, defended Mak and sought a meeting at local precinct.
“You expect the police to be culturally sensitive,” Chin said. “This has been going on for hundreds of years, the Chinese burning offerings to the dead, and that’s what these kind of stores are for. It’s hard to understand how someone could mistake this for criminal activity.”