Can’t “Flea” from Louis Vuitton

It’s not everyday that we get to write about a high fashion designer suing a local flea market. So, you could imagine our curiosity when we heard about Toronto’s Dr. Flea Flea Market facing the heat for selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags.

Just recently, Louis Vuitton filed a lawsuit against the local flea market for intentionally selling a handbag that evidently violated copyright law. The picture on the left showing the counterfeit product, with the ad on the right being from Louis Vuitton’s collection.

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Now, what makes this case any different from the other copyright infringement lawsuits we have written about in the past? Other than the fact that the defendants are Torontonian (meaning that we, as consumers, can choose whether or not to support their selling of counterfeit products… ahemm all shoppers of counterfeit products…), this brings the forefront of discussion a pressing issue in Canadian copyright law.

It is common practice for brands to bring lawsuits against the vendors of counterfeit products, however, there has not been a precedent set in Canadian courts regarding suing the landowners of such retail space. The ability to hold landlords accountable for vendors’ activities has already been established and legislated under U.S. law. However, Canada is seen as lagging behind, without ever having implemented regulations in this area.

Although this lawsuit is just beginning, one thing is for certain: if Louis Vuitton is in fact successful in suing the owners of the flea market, Canadian brands will now have an extra tool in protecting themselves against copyright infringements. Moreover, however, with more at stake for landowners, this increased responsibility will hopefully encourage landowners to better regulate the products that their vendors are selling.

Giuseppina D’Agostino, the founder and director of the intellectual property law program at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, commented on this lawsuit in a recent Globe and Mail article stating that, “Should the case be successful, it would increase pressure on landlords to monitor their tenants… [however] those changes will be toothless without enforcement. You can have whatever contract written down, whatever law, whatever lawsuit, if it’s not enforced, the problem proliferates. […] I think it may change some behaviour in terms of landlords being more judicious in who they lease their space to but long term I don’t think it will really address the bigger problem of infringing merchandise.”

Reality is, without landowners taking whatever legislation will be passed (if, in fact, Louis Vuitton is successful) seriously, not much will change regarding Canadian counterfeit products. Further, even with new, more restrictive legislation in place, how much can the law really control?

If one thing is certain, however, it is that no one can “Flea” from Louis Vuitton, not even the local flea market down the road.

Information regarding this lawsuit was derived from various Canadian resources, including The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.

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