The NYT had a major story about a ruling from a Chinese court requiring shoe manufacturers there to pay New Balance for using its logo on their shoes. The article repeatedly used the term "counterfeit" to refer to items that are similar to those produced by a major brand, but sell at a far lower price. This is inaccurate.

For an item to be counterfeit, the buyer must be deceived. In other words, the people buying the shoes with the New Balance logo must wrongly believe that they are buying New Balance shoes. From the article it appears that this is not generally the case. It tells us that the companies use names that are like New Balance, but are not New Balance. This is presumably telling consumers their shoe is similar to the one produced by New Balance, but it is not actually a New Balance shoe.

This distinction is important for two reasons. First, as long as it is clear that these shoes are not actually made by New Balance, the company does not have to worry that its reputation could be damaged by an inferior product. If the items were true counterfeits, then their poor quality would hurt the reputation of New Balance, which would be a real source of damage to the company.

The other reason the distinction is important is that the consumer is an ally in cracking down on actual counterfeits. In this case, the consumer is deceived because she paid a premium to get a presumably high-quality product, which she did not actually get. Consumers who are victims of counterfeits would be likely to cooperate with enforcement efforts.

On the other hand, consumers who knowingly buy unauthorized copies of major brands are benefiting from the opportunity to buy the copy at a lower cost than the brand product. They presumably are willing to trust the quality of the product produced by the knock-off manufacturer, given the savings. In this case, consumers have no reason to cooperate with enforcement efforts, since they will force them to pay more for the products they are buying.

It would be helpful if the NYT and other news outlets were careful to make the distinction between counterfeits and unauthorized copies in their reporting.

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