Jeans are displayed at a True Religion store in Century City in 2009. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)
Southern California designer jeans maker True Religion Apparel Inc. has won a $864-million court judgment against online Chinese counterfeiters, but actually getting that money will be a battle.
The Vernon company, whose jeans can go for nearly $500, sued 282 websites originating from China and accused them of lifting company trademarks and peddling fake goods. The websites had names such as TrueReligion4Cheap.com and ForTrueReligionJeans.com.
The defendants were a no-show in court, so the New York federal judge handed down a default judgment this month. The websites were shut down. Each defendant was also ordered to pay $8.15 million and any similar websites they created in the future will also be closed.
Deborah Greaves, general counsel for True Religion, said the websites were probably part of large counterfeiting networks run by "organized crime factors" in China. In such cases, it's not uncommon for defendants to never make an appearance, she said.
"It's not unusual to give false names and false addresses when registering these sites," she said. "They can hide behind the Internet and open up new accounts somewhere else."
So collecting the entire $864 million, which is larger even than this week's Mega Millions jackpot, may be difficult.
Greaves said the judgment serves as a warning to other knockoff artists: "Hey, we can still get to you, we can take you down."
In the last few years, luxury brands such as Tory Burch and Chanel have cracked down hard and taken cyber counterfeiters to court, in part to send a similar message. But it's a hard fight with no clear victory.
"I don't think they'll stop," the True Religion lawyer said. "But you might get lucky and they'll move onto another brand."