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New York City Considers Jail, Fine for Buyers of Fake Designer Goods

City council members push for a tough new law.

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New York City Council member Margaret Chin, a Democrat representing lower Manhattan, wants to frighten the fashion anarchists who purchase fake designer bags away from the tempting offers of clever street vendors.

Legislation proposed by Chin and six other city council members would make buying a counterfeit product in the city a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Chin announced the proposal in April and the bill was discussed during a Thursday hearing of the council's Public Safety Committee - where it will likely linger for months as officials prioritize the city budget. The New York City Council has 51 members, 46 of whom are Democrats.

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The current draft of the bill would make it a crime to "purchase a tangible item containing a counterfeit trademark when such person knows or should have known such trademark is counterfeit for reasons including, but not limited to, the quality and price of the purchased item, and/or the condition of the seller and the sale location."

"We gotta do something," Chin said during the Thursday hearing, the New York Daily News reports. "This is really having a severe impact on quality of life." She explained that her Manhattan district was crowded with uncouth peddlers dealing to eager customers. Chin said her own Calvin Klein handbag was authentic, according to the Daily News.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg - who famously attempted to ban the sale of sodas over 16 ounces - has weighed in against the proposed law, as did council member Peter Vallone, the committee's chairman, who said Thursday his mother might inadvertently be ensnared by a tough new policy.

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One of the measure's co-sponsors, Manhattan Democrat Rosie Mendez, is known for railing against heavy-handed policing. In 2007 she defiantly led a large bicycle ride through her district in violation of police rules, urging the crowd to shout "Whose streets? Our streets!" Mendez co-signed a letter in 2011 saying she was "dismayed" by the "shameful" police eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from their Manhattan encampment. Ironically the New York State Senate recently passed legislation that likely would have made her previous actions illegal.

Critics of Chin's proposal, including Bloomberg and Vallone, hinted that they are open to some measure to deter buying counterfeit items.

Revisions being mulled by Chin include making the charge a violation - which would be treated like a speeding ticket - rather than a misdemeanor, or introducing a tiered system of punishment that is more heavy-handed with frequent offenders than one-time customers.

The intent of the proposal isn't necessarily to put tourists or celebrities with bad taste in jail, Chin's office says. It's supposed to be a deterrent, similar to tough measures in some European countries.

"The bottom line is counterfeiters have to sell to do their job and we need a law in place that punishes buyers for supporting this illegal trade," Chin said in an April statement. "I urge visitors to come to New York for its authenticity – not to buy fake bags or electronics."

The sellers of fake designer handbags and other counterfeit items are frequently targeted for arrest and prosecution in New York City, but the bags remain a nuisance - or a thrilling bargain, depending on your point of view - particularly in Manhattan's Chinatown area.

The legislation in its current form:

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