This is a story about Angry Birds and a Manhattan pol who is probably going to run for mayor in 2013.
More specifically, this is a story about an Angry-Birds-inspired police raid that prompted Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to write a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
On November 8th, 2011, the NYPD conducted raids on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown to stop the sale of counterfeit merchandise related to Angry Birds — you know, the addictive game where you slingshot little birds at little pigs. Well apparently, the NYPD got wind that some vendors in these Manhattan neighborhoods were selling merchandise related to the Angry Birds franchise and responded with a raid.
Enter Scott Stringer, who is expected to run for mayor next year. After these incidents, Stringer convened meetings with the vendors, some local electeds, and the NYPD to discuss what went down.
At that meeting, according to Stringer, many vendors said that they didn’t know the material was counterfeit and were frustrated in general, since it can be difficult to figure out whether products can legally be sold.
“It may have been over Angry Birds, but it wasn’t an angry meeting,” Stringer, feeling extra quotable, told the Voice yesterday.
His office reached out to us to let us know that the borough president has sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Jonathan Mintz, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs commissioner, with some suggestions on how to avoid the Angry Birds frustration that occurred last year.
The letter to Kelly — who incidentally could, maybe end up running for mayor himself (something that folks like Stringer might be worried about, Stringer says) — urges the city to increase communication with vendors and provide better education around trademark counterfeit regulations.
Vendors “want to do business the right way. I think there’s some genuine confusion out there [about] the procedure and process to figure out what’s counterfeit and what’s not,” Stringer told us. “It’s clear that we need to educate the vendors.”
In the letter, sent on Thursday, he urges the city to translate vendor guides into Chinese and other languages and also hold regular community briefings with vendors. He also suggests that the city standardize and enhance vendor education, since many complained that they were altogether unaware of Angry Birds or alternatively didn’t know that their merchandise came from an illicit source.
“We understand that it is ultimately the responsibility of business owners to ensure that they are selling legal merchandise; however we see a need for increased communication and public education…particularly in vendors’ native languages. It is our firm belief that efforts to increase education and voluntary compliance with counterfeit merchandise law will both protect intellectual property and build community support for enforcement efforts,” Stringer wrote in the letter, also signed by State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Stringer, who has been critical of the NYPD’s policy of stop-and-frisk but careful not to criticize Kelly, told us that he was satisfied with the NYPD’s response at the meeting and that they seem interested in making the situation better.
“I was really pleased that the police listened,” Stringer said. “It was very much a dialogue.”
Stringer seems to be making some efforts to appeal to immigrant voters, holding an event in Queens earlier this month where he released a Korean-language immigrant rights manual. In this case, he said it’s important to support the city’s vendors. “This is part of the business of New York City and certainly in lower Manhattan, and we really want to help where we can.”
NYPD officials did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, though a spokesperson from the Dept. of Consumer Affairs told us that the city is committed to making its documents available in different languages. The spokesperson said that more than 15 million copies of more than 40 publications and essential documents have been translated into multiple languages.
The full letter:
We write today to suggest ways to enhance public awareness and compliance with laws related to the sale of counterfeit trademark merchandise. As elected officials, we have and will continue to strongly support Police Department efforts to enforce intellectual property law. New York City is the creative capital of the world and our ability to protect the ownership of ideas is critical to our economic success and cultural vitality.
On February 24th, our offices hosted a community meeting that brought together vendors in the Chinatown area with officers of the New York City Police Department. The meeting followed complaints received by our offices following a series of raids conducted on November 8, 2011 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhoods to combat the sale of counterfeit merchandise related to the popular “Angry Birds” franchise.
In the aftermath of those raids, vendors reported surprise and confusion at having been the target of police action. These vendors contend that while they strictly avoid the sale of known counterfeit goods, they were unaware that the merchandise in question violated the law. Moreover, these vendors submit that they would have immediately ceased the sale of Angry Birds merchandise had they been made aware of its status.
At the February 24th meeting, vendors were able to speak directly with NYPD officers about counterfeit merchandise law and have their questions answered. This type of public education is invaluable and we thank the NYPD for their willingness to partner with our offices.
Building on the success of our community meeting, we believe there are further opportunities to promote awareness of and compliance with counterfeit merchandise law:
Translate Vendor Guides into Chinese and Other Languages
During the course of the meeting, it was made apparent that some vendors were unclear about laws related to toy gun sales. A subsequent discussion of the issue with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs led to a commitment on the part of that agency to translate its guide for vendors on toy gun laws into Chinese for the first time. This is exactly the type of cooperation we seek to foster and we applaud the Department of Consumer Affairs for its responsiveness and commitment to public education.
We urge the Department of Consumer Affairs to translate other regulations and guides into Chinese and other languages that would aid in vendor and merchant education about the law.
Standardize and Enhance Vendor Education Efforts
At our community meeting, vendors expressed frustration with the difficulty of ascertaining whether a given product for sale is legal or counterfeit. For instance, vendors complained that they were unaware of the “Angry Birds” franchise, or alternatively that they were unaware that the Angry Birds merchandise within their store came from an illicit source.
It is our understanding that the NYPD and intellectual property owners are reluctant to share specific details about individual items that reveal whether those items are counterfeit, as the dissemination of such information could bolster the efforts of counterfeiters to evade the law. Working within this reasonable restriction, we recommend a written guide be disseminated among vendors that details how to avoid counterfeit goods, lists contact information for the license holder and local distributor for common or popular illegal merchandise (updated as necessary), and explains the importance of compliance with counterfeit merchandise law. Such a guide should be available in multiple languages including Spanish and Chinese.
Further, as the world of counterfeit sales can shift as quickly as popular taste, a mechanism could be established to continually inform vendors about new counterfeit products on the market, including details on the legal channels of distribution for the authentic product. This could be accomplished through an existing vendor mailing list or a newly created list built for this purpose. If this type of regular communication with business owners for the purposes of public education is outside the purview of the NYPD, the Department of Consumer Affairs – which currently lacks a substantial role in counterfeit merchandise compliance or enforcement efforts – could be tasked with maintaining such a mechanism for regular updates with vendors.
Hold Regular Community Briefings with Vendors
Following the success of the community meeting, we ask that similar forums bringing together vendors, the NYPD, elected officials and representatives of other city agencies be established to promote public awareness and police-community trust. It is our understanding that police efforts to combat the sale of counterfeit merchandise are sometimes hampered by the reluctance of vendors to disclose the sources of counterfeit merchandise. We are hopeful that continual dialogue between vendors and the NYPD could help build the common trust needed to support future cooperation.
We understand that it is ultimately the responsibility of business owners to ensure that they are selling legal merchandise; however we see a need for increased communication and public education around enforcing trademark counterfeit regulations, particularly in vendors’ native languages. It is our firm belief that efforts to increase education and voluntary compliance with counterfeit merchandise law will both protect intellectual property and build community support for enforcement efforts. We look forward to building on our record of cooperation to tackle this important issue.
Scott M. Stringer