Customs Counterfeit Seizures; Counterfeit Guitars

Back in May, Customs made a large seizure of counterfeit guitars in Jersey City. We previously discussed, in a two article series, the dangers of importing counterfeit trademark merchandise into the United States; how it can result in seizure, monetary penalties, and how the importer can defend it. It also happens that this story deals with false country of origin marking on imported merchandise.

This story underscores the importance of everything we discussed in those articles: Importing Counterfeit Trademarks – Customs Seizures & Penalties; Part 1 and Part 2 and Importing Grey Market Goods (click to read). You should also review the articles we have published on country of origin marking, available Country of Origin Marking Requirements and Customs Country of Origin and Substantial Transformation. The story is below, with my emphasis in bold:

Jersey City, N.J. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working at the International and Counterfeit guitars seized in Jersey CityBulk Mail Center in Jersey City, N.J. discovered more than 185 counterfeit guitars with an estimated retail value of more than $1,000,000.

While examining oversize parcels, CBP officers discovered five guitars bearing the Gibson, Les Paul, Paul Reed Smith, and Martin trademarks, as well as the marking “Made in USA.”  The officers immediately suspected the guitars of being counterfeit based on the Counterfeit Guitar Seizurescountry of origin, poor craftsmanship, and packaging.

CBP has since identified more than 180 counterfeit guitars bearing additional trademarks of Epiphone, Fender, Taylor, and Ernie Ball—all being shipped through the same facility. Officers discovered business cards within the packaging, all referring to the same website. The website indicated these guitars could be purchased from China for about $200 to $500; but the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for authentic guitars range anywhere from $2,000 for basic models to $54,000 for signature models. The guitars were seized by officers and are scheduled for destruction.

“CBP is on the forefront of protecting the American economy and trademark holders. Counterfeit goods pose a serious threat to the consumer and economic loss to American business,” said Robert E. Perez, director of CBP’s New York Field Operations. “Enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) remains a priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

CBP protects businesses and consumers every day through an aggressive IPR enforcement program.

Information about internet purchases is available. Additional information on CBP’s IPR enforcement efforts can be found at CBP IPR.

Notice how the false country of origin marking may have raised the suspicions of customs and caused them to investigate the legitimacy of trademark further. Trouble never travels alone. You should read about your liability for customs violations for things you purchase on the Internet.

If you have merchandise seized by customs and either lose your opportunity to get the merchandise back, abandon the merchandise, or ignore the notice of seizure, it may not be the end of trouble for the importer. In general, customs has the authority to fine or penalize anyone who violates the laws enforced by customs. This means that, weeks or months after the property is seized and forfeited, you may get notice of penalty in the mail from customs that demands payment of thousands of dollars in penalties! It could also mean you get a letter from the trademark holder threatening you with further legal action.

If you have had money or merchandise seized by customs because they allege it is counterfeit and contains trademark violations, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist petitions for customs seizures nationwide.