THE grand golden doors of 500 Pearl Street, in Manhattan, have welcomed such glamorous names as Hermès, Tiffany & Co and Kering, a French conglomerate whose treasures include Gucci and Bottega Veneta. The building is not a posh hotel or department store. It is the federal court for the Southern District of New York, a favoured battleground for the decidedly unglamorous war against counterfeit goods.
The court is now the venue for Kering’s suit against Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant. Kering alleges that Alibaba helps fakers sell goods on its websites. The French firm is not the only one to be incensed. On July 17th the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) demanded that Alibaba crack down on counterfeits. Alibaba insists it has extensive measures in place to do just that. It is trying to distance itself from counterfeiters, who are also accused by Kering. On August 6th Alibaba plans to argue to the court that it risks being unfairly implicated as a co-conspirator. A bitter trial looks likely.
Counterfeit sales are, by definition, difficult to tally. Last year American border officials nabbed copies that, had they been genuine, would have been worth $1.2 billion. Their European Union counterparts seized €768m ($1 billion) of fakes in 2013. But these were surely a fraction of the counterfeits being peddled. Estimates for the total value of fakes sold worldwide each year go as high as $1.8 trillion.
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