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buying imitation brands

Question
Hi. Are we allowed to buy clothes or any other item, which perfectly imitate those of a famous brand? E.g. Nowadays it is very common to find fake Chanel handbags for women or fake Rolex watches. Is buying them considered "Stealing"? Is this situation different from that one in which we suspect, but are not sure about, that the item may have been stolen, not imitated, (as many people believe) from actual brands during the imports of goods by people involved in the trading? Thank you and hag chanukah sameaj!
Answer
Shalom, There are several issues involved in your question, and I will try to outline them. Firstly we need to know what the law of the land is. In questions of business conduct we are obligated by the halacha to follow the laws of the land. So if it is illegal to make and sell imitation products (because of copyright laws etc) then it goes without saying that Jewish law forbids trading in such goods. (As I am not a lawyer I can't help you with this question). Next there is a question of whether the seller is involved in some form of trickery in that he is presenting the products to the public as real Chanel products when they are not. This is called "ona'ah" and is forbidden in halacha. If there is a good likelihood that this is what's happening here then it is also forbidden to buy the items (even if you personally know they are imitation) as you are supporting the sinner's activity. On the other hand, if it is clear that these are imitation products, and are sold as such (for example the watch is labled "Relox" and not "Rolex" and the seller says clearly that it is an imitation watch, then this would not be a problem. Next we need to examine whether there exists in halacha some form of copyright of design. This issue has been widely addressed in relation to making copies of music and films, computer programs and the like. There does not seem to be one accepted opinion in this issue. I would say that if the secular law allows copying watch design (or computer design) etc, it should be acceptable halachically. But neither is the secular law clear, nor is there a halachic consensus on this issue. Where one has reason to believe that the goods are not imitation but stolen (as you wrote) then the halacha is much clearer. It is forbidden to buy such objects (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 366.1). Even if this is only a suspicion (but one based on good assumptions, such as the price is incredibly low, or its being sold in a suspicious way etc) it is also forbidden to buy it (see Taz ibid). If though the goods were stolen, but have changed many hands, and we can assume that the original owners have given up hope of getting their goods back, then it is permitted to buy them. I hope this helps you with some general guidelines in this area of halacha. As you see, each case may have many variables, and I advise you to ask a Rabbi in any particular cases you may encounter. Blessings
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