Turkey, on the border of the EU and in a strategic location between Asia and Europe, has become a source for counterfeit products, especially designer fashion.
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Despite continuous enforcement efforts, the OECD estimates that the trade in counterfeit and pirated products has been increasing.
In the EU, the numbers are even higher than globally.
The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and EUROPOL 2022 report on Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment puts counterfeit and pirated goods in the EU at an estimated 5.8% of imports or up to EUR 119 billion.
It is worth noting that the data does not include fake goods that were domestically produced or fakes distributed through online commerce.
Most counterfeit production takes place outside the EU, such as in Turkey.
The goods are imported into the union and distributed, often by criminal organizations.
Data from border seizures is affected by an increase in the use of small parcels related to online sales that are harder to intercept.
In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, border authorities had a more difficult time seizing counterfeit goods.
Yet, the EUIPO and EUROPOL report points to a sharp increase in IP crime, from everyday goods to luxury items.
Turkey’s counterfeit market
Turkey is involved in the manufacturing and sales of both genuine and counterfeit goods, in addition to being an important transportation hub.
The transcontinental country is known to export apparel and shoes to Europe, among other goods, with the value of counterfeit goods increasing.
According to a December 2021 European Commission (EC) and European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) report, Turkey remains a major source in terms of the value of counterfeits going into the EU.
As the report states: “With regard to countries of provenance in relation to value, China is at the top of the list, followed by Hong Kong, China and Turkey, as in previous years.”
The same report shows that the value of counterfeits exported from Turkey more than tripled from 2019 to 2020, reaching nearly €134m.
It is interesting to note that Turkey is the leading source of fake clothing (known for counterfeit designer clothes) and accessories (belts, ties, gloves, etc.) and counterfeit drugs, and other products (such as condoms).
In these categories, Turkey surpasses China to become the number one source of counterfeits seized at EU borders.
The strategically located country is the second largest source of counterfeit perfumes and cosmetics, bags, jewelry and accessories, sports shoes, and textiles (such as towels and linen).
And it is the third major source of counterfeit food products, non-sports shoes, watches, vehicles, vehicle accessories and parts, as well as labels, tags, and stickers.
Right on the borders of the EU, Turkey is involved not only in the production but the entrance of illicit goods into the EU.
A 2020 report by Europol mentions large quantities of counterfeit goods and footwear by famous brands crossing from Turkey to Greece and later sold as genuine items.
Bulgaria’s customs authority reports on vehicles and trucks crossing from Turkey into their territory with counterfeit goods.
Some freight companies export mainly counterfeit goods on trucks going into the EU, and have a system that includes forged documents and sometimes help from border officers.
Quality of fakes
Turkey’s textile industry is well known, and many brands manufacture their clothing, accessories, and leather goods in Turkey.
Therefore, there is knowledge in the country on how to create high-quality fakes.
In the past, most fakes were associated with poor quality. This is not necessarily true anymore.
Today, super-fakes are so close to the original that it can be almost impossible to tell the difference.
Clothes, handbags, hats, watches and more are easy to find in markets around Turkey and online.
Groups of shoppers online discuss where to buy the best replicas, while Instagram pages and TikTok accounts sell fakes to customers wherever they may be.
The most well-known Turkish market is probably the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and the streets around it that create the city’s market district.
There you can find luxury fashion houses from Gucci to Prada and Louis Vuitton, handbags, sunglasses, watches, perfumes, electronic products and the list goes on.
Other shoppers say that the best products are not really out for display in the bazaar.
The reason is that sellers do not want to lose their goods if the police confiscate the openly displayed fakes.
Instead, they keep their high-quality products someplace more discreet and only take some customers to see them in unmarked apartments outside of the bazaar that often change their location to avoid police raids.
There are other markets around the country, like this one in Izmir.
Another traveler who reviewed the market in Kusadasi calls it “best fakes in the world”.
Counterfeiting is a crime
Counterfeit goods are easily found in Turkey, and IP infringement is widespread.
Consumers may think that whether or not they buy fakes is merely a personal choice that they can make based on financial or ethical considerations.
The truth is that the fake industry fuels organized crime and labor exploitation.
Criminal networks are involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit goods and in bribery and corruption that enable the goods to pass through customs.
They operate illegal factories with unregulated labor.
A report published in 2016 by Reuters investigated the employment of Syrian refugee children in Turkish factories.
Although illegal, Turkish children are also employed in factories, many of them in the clothing and textiles industries.
It does not mean that all child labor is part of the counterfeit industry, but the less regulated the factory, the more likely it is to exploit children and not guarantee rights such as work hours and safety.
The Turkish police carry out some enforcement operations.
Police raids target more than fashion: in 2020, it seized 1 million counterfeit face masks, in 2021 the police raided a warehouse and seized 33,176 counterfeit products and in 2022, it was reported that police raided a counterfeit cigarette factory and confiscated more than 10 million cigarettes and 5.5 tons of tobacco with an estimated value of $3.7 million.
Yet looking at how Turkey is a major hub for the production and transit of counterfeit goods, it has been charged as being ineffective in the enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Indeed, some data suggest that Turkey is a counterfeit paradise, citing both the cultural acceptance of counterfeit goods and the Turkish economy.
The effect of the economy
The fall in the value of the Turkish lira fuels the trade in counterfeit goods.
A decrease in the value of the lira makes it cheaper for buyers to purchase counterfeit goods in Turkey when they buy with euros.
The same is true for other currencies, such as the US dollar. When goods are cheaper in
Turkey, it makes the export of counterfeits more profitable. Together with an economy that is currently not doing very well, selling fakes has become even more appealing.
“Our sales have doubled in 2021, it’s a real bargain if you buy in dollars or euros,” the owner of one of the Istanbul stores had told the Guardian.
Turkey IP law
Numerous companies, especially in the textile industry, have manufacturing facilities in Turkey or have facilities they outsource manufacturing to.
Turkey’s robust trade makes the protection of intellectual property rights in the country essential.
In 2016 Turkey adopted the Protection of Industrial Property Rights Law (IP Law), which entered into force at the beginning of 2017.
The law protects patents, trademark and service marks, industrial designs and geographical indications.
Copyrights are protected by another law: the Law on Intellectual and Artistic Works.
Turkey is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Madrid Protocol.
Accordingly, you can file international trademark applications through the Madrid System and name Turkey among the designated countries.
As a result, Turkey is well positioned to handle IP protection and enforcement.
In cases of litigation, it has dedicated IP courts for both civil and criminal litigation.
Preventative measures, such as recording your rights at customs, offer tools that can strengthen brand protection enforcement strategy.
Online brand protection solutions focus on both preventative and proactive online brand protection.
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