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Queens Courier

City Council targets 'bootleg' vendors


Wednesday, November 22, 2006 3:24 PM CST
Vendors of counterfeit goods, beware. A bill introduced to the City Council recently
would let the City's Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) levy higher fines and
summonses to peddlers selling bootleg DVDs, fake designer jeans, and faux bags.
"While our city wants to encourage entrepreneurship and business growth at every level,
it should not be at the expense of legitimate businesses and artists. The sale of so-called
'bootleg' movies and CDs are simply wrong," said Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who
co-introduced the bill with Councilmember David Yassky.
If the bill is passed, vendors could face fines between $500 and $5000, and the DCA
would be allowed to seize their wares until the vendor pays the amount due - currently,
only the police can seize goods and arrest vendors for selling without a license and
selling counterfeit materials. A hearing on the bill will be held in the Council's Consumer
Affairs committee on Tuesday, November 28.
Industry insiders estimate that about $31 billion was spent on counterfeit goods last year
in the City, up from an estimated $23 billion in 2003 calculated in a report issued by City
Comptroller Bill Thompson in 2004. In addition, the figure has been steadily climbing according to the Comptroller's report - since 1982.
Comrie said that vendors selling counterfeit goods can be found on nearly every major
street in Queens - particularly along Roosevelt Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, Ditmars
Boulevard, Junction Boulevard, Sutphin Boulevard, and Main Street. The prevalence of
vendors selling knock-offs, even around the corner from City Hall in Manhattan,
prompted him to work on the issue.
Despite the increased presence of police in IMPACT zones - including the stretch of
Roosevelt Avenue from 74th and 104th Streets and 37th to 41st Avenues, where many
vendors set up shop - local residents and businesses say that the number of street vendors
has seemed to remain steady.
To combat vendors of counterfeit goods, the Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA), and many high-end clothing companies, have begun busting bootleg vendors in
Queens with the help of the NYPD.
As part of the RIAA crackdown, six arrests were made, and 103 high-speed burners,
15,000 counterfeit CD-Rs and 10,000 CD-R blanks, were confiscated during a raid in
March 2004, and one month later, one person was arrested, and 127 high-speed burners,
8,900 counterfeit CD-Rs, six monitors, and 1,800 CR-R blanks were seized in Queens.
More recently, New York was named one of the nation's 11 "hot spots" for counterfeit

goods earlier this year, and the RIAA has launched a Holiday Blitz campaign to stop the
sale of counterfeit goods this winter.
Upscale clothing and purse companies send out fake shoppers to find vendors where
counterfeit products are sold, then help to organize raids with police.
Comrie said that for consumers, buying counterfeit goods oftentimes means getting a
lesser quality product, and for local businesses, street vendors present added competition.
"It's unfair to the businesses, who are on those commercial strips that have to pay taxes
and keep their businesses clean and pay electric bills and heating bills to attract customers
only to be undercut by someone who is trying to make a quick dollar," Comrie said.
He added that sometimes both workers inside small businesses and vendors outside on
the street are making less than the State's minimum hourly wage of $6.75.
However, Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendors Project, a non-profit dedicated to
helping the estimated 10,000 street vendors in New York City, said that the new bill could
hurt financially struggling vendors more than it helps.
"Going after vendors is really going after the smallest fish in the pond," Basinski said.
"The City Council should be instead punishing the people who are making millions off of
it and not the poor people who are selling this only because they have to support their
families."
Many street vendors can barely support themselves with their earnings, said Basinski,
who guessed vendors opted to sell counterfeit goods because they can usually fetch
higher prices and better profits. All vendors who sell counterfeit goods are unlicensed, he
said.
"Even if you sell totally legitimate merchandise you are going to be arrested," Basinski
said. "Vendors think that you might as well sell what will make you money in those few
hours that you have to sell before you have to run from the police."
According to a survey of city vendors by the Street Vendors Project, the average vendor
supports 4.2 people with their earnings and receives 6.7 summonses per year.