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France Fights Online Luxury Counterfeits

Country unveiled a charter that aims to staunch online flow of fake luxury goods by stepping up cooperation between high-end brands and France’s e-commerce Web sites.

PARIS (AP) -- France intensified the fight to protect its luxury sector Wednesday, unveiling a charter that aims to staunch the online flow of fake Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel sunglasses and Dior watches by stepping up cooperation between the brands and the country's e-commerce Web sites.

The charter is part a wider French effort to regulate the Web and protect intellectual property in the Internet age: Lawmakers here recently passed legislation that would cut people caught illegally downloading movies and music off from the Internet, and authorities are debating how to best respond to Google Book's request to digitize French libraries' collections.

"Web-based counterfeiting mirrors the Internet itself: It's multiform, decentralized, volatile, agile, and difficult to pin down," said French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde at Wednesday's signing. "Every second, new sites are created in France or abroad ... and we can't afford to wait with our arms crossed as consumer complaints pile up."

She described the charter as "a statement of best practices" that would help standardize cooperation between companies -- including luxury labels but also pharmaceutical, cosmetics and apparel manufacturers -- that are victims of counterfeiting and the e-commerce Web sites through which they are sold on to unwitting consumers.

However, the French charter might prove largely toothless, as the two principle heavyweights of e-commerce -- eBay and Amazon -- declined to sign on. Still, Lagarde suggested that if the charter proves beneficial to French consumers, the two giants might eventually be persuaded into signing on.

The companies and two leading French e-commerce platforms -- PriceMinister and -- "all agree that they are going to fight counterfeiting by exchanging information and alerting each other" about the counterfeit goods for sale online, said Lagarde.

The charter stipulates that e-commerce Web sites are to put in place a way for companies to report counterfeits they spot for sale online and calls on the sites to quickly remove such items. It also calls on the sites to police themselves by investigating and eventually removing items they suspect could be fakes, as well as the individuals who post them.

The head of France's second biggest online retailer, PriceMinister, hailed the charter as a "real guarantee for consumers."

In years past, luxury labels were largely reticent to help PriceMinister identify fakes, said Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet.

"There are brands that do not want to talk to us, that said 'we don't like Internet, we don't want to talk,'" he said, adding, "Now the brands have to cooperate with us."

Kosciusko-Morizet said PriceMinister already invests several million euros (dollars) a year into tracking down and removing counterfeits before they're sold and dealing with complaints from customers who bought them.

About 22 million French people, or 41 percent of the population, made at least one purchase on the internet over the last year, said Industry Minister Christian Estrosi. He added that fakes account for 7-10 percent of all good sold worldwide.

France has taken a leading role in trying to legislate solutions to problems that have grown out of the Internet, including the spread of child pornography and illegal file sharing.