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NYC cracking down on counterfeit merch to protect image, money

NYPD hats

NYPD hats Photo Credit: Ainul Gift Shop on Canal Street has maintained a stock of licensed merchandise. (RJ Mickelsen/amNY)

It’s getting harder to make a buck by knocking off the Big Apple’s brand.

City officials have taken extraordinary steps to protect the iconic “NYC” name and other city trademarks — including NYPD and FDNY — by filing lawsuits, firing off hundreds of cease-and-desist letters and cracking down on merchants mixed up with counterfeit goods.

“There are always police checking – it’s constant. Everyone knows to only sell what’s real,” Canal Street vendor Mohammed Parbes said of the police- and fire-themed apparel.

Another vendor on Broadway near the World Trade Center said police have continuously approached him to see if he’s selling bogus goods – sometimes more than once a day.

Why such vigilance? The city is set to make a record $24 million in retail licensing this year, and when hucksters try to sell unlicensed merch or use its logos, there’s an untold revenue loss.

Edna Wells Handy, commissioner of the Citywide Administrative Services, which operates the official CityStore, said Gotham wants to account for its goods because the profits go back to the general fund. Sales of NYPD and FDNY products also benefit their nonprofit foundations.

NYC Law Department counsel Gerald Singleton said counterfeit sales jumped after 9/11, but ”it only occasionally pops up now” thanks to various city initiatives:

•The city has updated its hangtags and holographic decals to differentiate authentic items – such as hats and shirts – from fakes.

•There have been nearly 800 cease-and-desist letters sent to trademark infringers since 2005, with 150 sent this year alone through August.

•Officials have won back close to 1,000 Internet domain names that improperly used “NYPD,” “FDNY” and other city trademarks.

•There have been major legal victories, including a case against Tavern on the Green, whose name belongs to the city and not the family that ran the restaurant, according to a judge’s ruling last year.

•Cops have increased overall counterfeit arrests from 49 in 2008 to 80 in 2010. The penalty for trafficking counterfeit goods is steep: a maximum 10-year prison sentence and $2 million fine.

Singleton said reports of mass-produced knockoffs are now rare, although authorities recently discovered about 100 cartons of “NYPD” caps at the Port of Los Angeles that were shipped from China.

“On the weekends, I walk these street fairs. And there may be other things that are counterfeit, but I’m not seeing any NYC merchandise,” Singleton said.

Meanwhile, those who’ve felt the legal wrath for trademark infringement can settle with the city. That was the case with Paul Russo, who was sued in 2005 over his NYPD Pizza chain in Florida.

“I have family on the job, and it was really my way of honoring them,” said Russo, a Queens native. “It was meant in a positive light.”

Russo’s pizzerias are still operating, although the city has limited where he can make his dough: The New York area, he said, is off limits.


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