U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow today called for a federal investigation into how counterfeiters are using foreign websites to sell rip-offs of American-made products and steal American ideas. Lisa Lehmann, artist and owner of Studio Jewel in Grand Rapids, MI, recently discovered her handmade jewelry being offered for sale on a Chinese "global trade" retail website. The website, Alibaba.com, has since taken down Lehmann's products and contacted Senator Stabenow's office to be part of the solution.
The counterfeit jewelry being sold on the website was clearly a knock-off of her design, as the pictures used on the site were the very pictures used on Lehmann's own website-modeled by her own children. Lehmann was recently featured on ABC's Made in America website showcasing American-made products to buy for Christmas.
Senator Stabenow said: "We must take action and stop counterfeiters wherever they are from ripping off American products and stealing American ideas from small businesses owners like Lisa Lehmann. That is why I am calling for a federal investigation to combat counterfeiters who are using foreign websites to sell rip-offs, which cost millions of American jobs and hurt our economy. It's time to get serious and stand up for American businesses and workers."
Lisa Lehmann, Owner and Artist of Studio Jewel in Grand Rapids said: "Over the last several years we have worked hard to grow our Michigan based small business into something significant. Seeing my designs and photos stolen from my website was not only frustrating, but I felt violated as well. As a small business owner we face enough challenges on a daily basis, I never expected to have to fight theft from a large company overseas. I am grateful for Senator Stabenow's willingness to stand up for Michigan entrepreneurs like myself."
Senator Stabenow sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Ambassador and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection today (below) requesting an investigation into how counterfeiters are using foreign trade websites to sell counterfeit goods and enforcement actions to combat this problem.
According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2011 report, 15 to 20% of all Chinese products are counterfeit. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that Chinese counterfeiting costs 2.1 million American jobs and represents 8% ($470 billion) of China's entire gross domestic product.
Senator Stabenow also renewed her call on Congress to pass her American Competitiveness Plan, which includes provisions to crack down on counterfeiting and intellectual property theft and provide more enforcement tools to hold foreign companies that violate international law accountable.
Senator Stabenow said: "Congress must pass my American Competitiveness Plan to stop the kind of theft of American ideas that happened to Lisa and her business. My plan provides more tools to customs agents, creates an offender watch list to catch more violators, and strengthens penalties to crack down on anti-competitive practices."
The American Competitiveness Plan is a comprehensive set of action steps to help ensure U.S. businesses and workers can become more globally competitive and create more jobs here in America. The plan includes several bills, which now have bipartisan support, designed to stand up for American businesses by cracking down on other countries' trade violations that give their companies an anti-competitive advantage.
Senator Stabenow's letter to the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Customs and Border Protection follows:
Letter to Ambassador Kirk and Commissioner Bersin:
December 21, 2011
The Honorable Ron Kirk Alan Bersin
United States Trade Representative Commissioner
Executive Office of the President U.S. Customs and Border Protection
600 17th Street, NW 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20508 Washington, D.C. 20229
Dear Ambassador Kirk and Commissioner Bersin:
I am writing to share the story of a small business owner in Michigan who is a victim of Chinese counterfeiters. Lisa Lehmann, owner of Studio Jewel in Grand Rapids, recently discovered that fake copies of her jewelry were being sold on the Internet by a counterfeiter based in China. Ironically, Lisa discovered the Chinese fakes only after her jewelry was featured as a holiday gift idea as part of ABC News' "Made in America" series.
We must do more to stop global counterfeiting and protect our intellectual property. To fight fakes, we need a better understanding of how counterfeiters use foreign e-commerce websites to distribute their illicit goods. Therefore, I respectfully request that your offices launch an investigation into counterfeiters' use of foreign e-commerce websites to traffic their counterfeit goods and take enforcement actions to combat this problem. The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has reported that counterfeiters are increasingly relying on such websites, particularly those based in China, to market and sell counterfeit goods.
Counterfeits can be devastating to small business owners like Lisa, who lose sales and find their legitimate products devalued. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2011 report, 15 to 20% of all Chinese products are counterfeit. The USITC estimates that Chinese counterfeiting costs 2.1 million American jobs and represents 8% ($470 billion) of China's entire gross domestic product.
As you know, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has repeatedly placed China on a "Priority Watch List" for its failure to enforce intellectual property rights. USTR also includes eight Chinese Internet and physical markets on its "Notorious Markets" list of havens for pirated and counterfeit goods. Adding insult to injury, China has refused to comply with its legal obligations to provide full information on its intellectual property rights infringement levels and enforcement activities in response to U.S. requests.
Last week marked the tenth anniversary of China's entry into the World Trade Organization. When China joined, it pledged to enforce intellectual property rights. After ten years, it is clear that China has little intention of putting an end to counterfeiting within its borders. I urge both USTR and Customs and Border Protection to investigate how counterfeiters are increasingly using e-commerce websites to market their goods and take actions to protect American innovation and jobs.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to fighting counterfeits. I look forward to hearing from you.
Senator Debbie Stabenow