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Rule

Civil Fines for Importation of Merchandise Bearing a Counterfeit Mark

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security.

ACTION:

Final rule.

SUMMARY:

This document amends the Customs Regulations to clarify the limit on the amount of a civil fine which may be assessed by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP; a bureau of the new Department of Homeland Security that encompasses much of the agency formerly known as the U.S. Customs Service) when imported merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark is seized under 19 U.S.C. 1526(e). The regulations currently use, as a measurement for determining the limit, the domestic value of merchandise as if it had been genuine, based on the manufacturer's suggested retail price of the merchandise at the time of seizure. The language set forth in the amended regulation adheres more closely to the statutory language, basing the limit of the civil fine on the value of the genuine good according to the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), without any reference to domestic value. Because the MSRP excludes discounted sales and markdowns, it is usually greater than the good's domestic value. Removing the distinction between the statutory and regulatory language will clear up confusion and result in CBP more uniformly determining the amount of a civil fine when merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark is imported.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

August 25, 2003.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Lynne O. Robinson, Office of Regulations and Rulings: (202) 572-8743.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The Anticounterfeiting Consumer Protection Act of 1996 (the ACPA; Pub. L. 104-153, 110 Stat. 1386) was signed into law on July 2, 1996, to ensure that Federal law adequately addresses the scope and sophistication of modern counterfeiting which costs American businesses an estimated $200 billion a year worldwide. Toward that end, the ACPA amended section 526 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1526), to provide two new tools to fight the importation of counterfeit goods: (1) the seizure, forfeiture, and destruction of merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark under 19 U.S.C. 1526(e) (section 1526(e)), as amended by section 9 of the ACPA, and (2) the imposition of a civil fine under 19 U.S.C. 1526(f) (section 1526(f)), a new section of law created under section 10 of the ACPA.

Under section 1526(e), merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark that is seized and forfeited must be destroyed except where the merchandise is not unsafe or a hazard to health and the trademark owner has consented to its disposal by one of several alternative methods (see sections 1526(e)(1),(2) and (3)). This provision ensures that a violator cannot regain possession of the forfeited goods and distribute them in some other manner (including making another attempt to import them at another U.S. Start Printed Page 43636port or into another country). Under section 1526(f)(1), a civil fine is assessed against any person who directs, assists financially or otherwise, or aids and abets the importation of merchandise for sale or public distribution that is seized under section 1526(e). Section 1526(f)(2) provides for a fine for the first seizure in an amount up to the value the imported merchandise would have had if it were genuine, according to the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). Section 1526(f)(3) provides for a fine for subsequent seizures in the amount of up to twice the value the imported merchandise would have had if it were genuine, according to the MSRP.

On November 17, 1997, Customs published interim regulations in the Federal Register (62 FR 61231) to amend § 133.25 of the Customs Regulations (19 CFR 133.25) to reflect the ACPA's amendment of 19 U.S.C. 1526. The interim amendments were adopted as a final rule published in the Federal Register (63 FR 51296) on September 25, 1998. A final rule document published in the Federal Register (64 FR 9058) on February 24, 1999, redesignated § 133.25 as § 133.27.

Under § 133.27 of the Customs Regulations (19 CFR 133.27), CBP may impose a civil fine, in addition to any other penalty or remedy authorized by law, against any person who directs, assists financially or otherwise, or aids and abets the importation of merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark that is seized under section 1526(e) and § 133.21 of the Customs Regulations (19 CFR 133.21). Under § 133.27(a), the fine imposed for the first violation (seizure) will not be more than the domestic value of the merchandise (as set forth in § 162.43(a)) as if it had been genuine, based on the MSRP of the genuine merchandise at the time of seizure. Under § 133.27(b), the fine imposed for subsequent violations will not be more than twice the domestic value of the merchandise as if it had been genuine, based on the MSRP of the genuine merchandise at the time of seizure.

Upon review of § 133.27, CBP determined that the language of the regulation is inconsistent with the language of section 1526(f). The regulation employs the term “domestic value” (of the merchandise) while the statute does not use that term. Moreover, because the MSRP is exclusive of any sale or markdown of a good at retail, it is usually greater than the good's domestic value. Therefore, setting the maximum amount of a civil fine by means of a formula that includes both the domestic value of the merchandise and the value of genuine merchandise according to the MSRP is confusing and contributes to misunderstanding by both CBP personnel and the public.

A review of the regulatory history indicates that CBP, in using the term “domestic value” in § 133.27 (§ 133.25 when published as a final rule on September 25, 1998), relied on 19 U.S.C. 1606 (section 1606) and § 162.43(a) of the Customs Regulations (19 CFR 162.43(a)). Section 1606 provides that CBP will determine the domestic value of merchandise seized under the Customs laws at the time and place of appraisement. Section 162.43(a) provides that “domestic value” as used in section 1606 means the price for which seized or similar property is freely offered for sale at the time and place of appraisement and in the ordinary course of trade.

While this “domestic value appraisement rule” of section 1606 and § 162.43(a) is applicable in various circumstances involving merchandise seized under the Customs laws, its application is qualified. Under 19 U.S.C. 1600, the procedures set forth in 19 U.S.C. 1602 through 1619, including the use of domestic value as laid out in section 1606, apply to seizures of property under any law enforced or administered by CBP unless such law specifies different procedures. Because section 1526(f) specifies the formula for imposing civil fines for the importation of merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark, the domestic value appraisement rule of section 1606 and § 162.43(a) does not apply.

This conclusion led CBP to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register (67 FR 39321) on June 7, 2002, which proposed to remove the term “domestic value” from § 133.27, leaving “manufacturer's suggested retail price” as the applicable measure of the penalty. The notice stated that using the MSRP as the measure for a penalty will: (1) Result in a formula for setting the maximum civil fine under the regulation that more closely follows the language of the statute; (2) clarify for CBP personnel and the importing public the limit of a civil fine; (3) enhance uniformity in CBP's assessment of fines when merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark is imported and seized; and (4) ensure that the Congressional intent in enacting section 1526(f), i.e., to enhance deterrence of trade in counterfeit goods, will be uniformly served. Deterrence is furthered by the fact that the MSRP of a given article (in this case the genuine article that corresponds to imported merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark) is normally greater than its domestic value (because MSRP excludes discounted sales and markdowns) and a civil fine based on the MSRP will normally be greater.

Discussion of Comments

The NPRM invited public comment, and CBP received 15 responses by the close of the comment period. Of the 11 specific comments gleaned from the 15 responses, several agreed with CBP's proposal to amend the regulation and with CBP's reasons for doing so. However, some commenters suggested changes to the proposed amendment which are discussed below:

Comment: A commenter proposed that all previously issued fines under 19 U.S.C. 1526(f) should be canceled as they were not issued pursuant to a valid regulation.

Customs response: CBP disagrees. All penalties were issued in a manner consistent with the provisions of the statute, i.e., fine amounts were finally set based on the MSRP. Thus, CBP will not cancel fines issued prior to the effective date of this amendment.

Comment: A commenter proposed that CBP should not issue a penalty notice assessing a fine under 19 U.S.C. 1526(f) where the manufacturer has not determined a MSRP for its genuine product. Another commenter suggested the use of “domestic resale value” when the MSRP of a genuine good is not available.

Customs response: CBP disagrees. CBP believes that in most cases, there will be a readily available MSRP to use in determining a fine under the statute. Occasional problematic situations will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and reasonable alternatives to using a manufacturer's MSRP, such as using the MSRP of a comparable good, will be employed with the assistance of CBP officers experienced in appraising merchandise.

Comment: A commenter proposed that the regulation incorporate sentencing guidelines used for criminal offenses.

Customs response: CBP disagrees. The sentencing guidelines are used by courts to determine sentences in criminal cases. Section 1526(f) provides for a civil fine which Congress sought to be imposed in addition to any other civil or criminal penalty (see section 1526(f)(4)). There is no indication that Congress wanted CBP to employ criminal sentencing guidelines in assessing penalties under section 1526(f).

Comment: A commenter proposed that because a fine under section 1526(f) is issued at the discretion of CBP, CBP officers should be instructed to impose Start Printed Page 43637fines only in the most egregious circumstances.

Customs response: CBP disagrees. The statute makes clear that a first offense and subsequent offenses are subject to penalty. There is no indication that Congress contemplated a range of offenses from minor to serious and a different result for minor offenses, whatever they might be. Further, the legislative history demonstrates strong Congressional resolve to stem the flow of counterfeit merchandise into the United States. Strict enforcement of the civil seizure and fine provisions under the statute are the means to accomplish the deterrence Congress envisioned. Violators will have the chance to submit arguments during the petitioning process for mitigation of the fine.

Comment: A commenter proposed that an importer/petitioner be permitted to challenge CBP's finding that a good bears a counterfeit mark in its petition to mitigate a fine assessed under section 1526(f).

Customs response: CBP does not disagree with this comment. A finding by CBP that a good bears a counterfeit mark forms the basis for a seizure under section 1526(e). A penalty under section 1526(f) follows the seizure under section 1526(e). They are separate proceedings. If a violator can successfully challenge the CBP finding that a good bears a counterfeit mark in the section 1526(e) proceeding, it will not face a section 1526(f) proceeding. In the section 1526(f) proceeding, a petitioner may always raise the issue of whether the good in question bears a counterfeit mark. At that time, CBP may review the validity of the initial finding and may remit the section 1526(f) penalty in appropriate circumstances.

Conclusion

Based on the comments received and the analysis of those comments as set forth above, and after further review of this matter, CBP believes that the proposed regulatory amendments should be adopted without change. CBP notes that with adoption of these amendments to the regulation, CBP will undertake to similarly amend the guidelines it uses to mitigate penalties assessed under section 1526(f). The current guidelines are set forth in T.D. 99-76, 33 Cust. Bull. No. 43, October 27, 1999.

Executive Order 12866

This document does not meet the criteria for a “significant regulatory action” as specified in E.O. 12866.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

This amendment to the regulation will result in the language of the regulation more closely adhering to the language of the governing statute, thus clarifying for the public the maximum amount CBP can assess for a civil fine when merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark is imported and seized. Pursuant to the provisions of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601, et seq.), it is therefore certified that the amendment will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. Accordingly, the amendment is not subject to the regulatory analysis or other requirements of 5 U.S.C. 603 and 604.

Drafting Information

The principal author of this document was Bill Conrad, Office of Regulations and Rulings, Customs and Border Protection. However, personnel from other offices contributed in its development.

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List of Subjects in 19 CFR Part 133

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Amendment to the Regulations

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For the reasons stated in the preamble, part 133 of the Customs Regulations (

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PART 133—TRADEMARKS, TRADE NAMES, AND COPYRIGHTS

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1. The authority citation for part 133 continues to read, in part, as follows:

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Authority: 17 U.S.C. 101, 601, 602, 603; 19 U.S.C. 66, 1624; 31 U.S.C. 9701.

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2. Section 133.27 is revised to read as follows:

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Civil fines for those involved in the importation of merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark.

In addition to any other penalty or remedy authorized by law, CBP may impose a civil fine under 19 U.S.C. 1526(f) on any person who directs, assists financially or otherwise, or aids and abets the importation of merchandise for sale or public distribution that bears a counterfeit mark resulting in a seizure of the merchandise under 19 U.S.C. 1526(e) (see § 133.21 of this subpart), as follows:

(a) First violation. For the first seizure of merchandise under this section, the fine imposed will not be more than the value the merchandise would have had if it were genuine, according to the manufacturer's suggested retail price in the United States at the time of seizure.

(b) Subsequent violations: For the second and each subsequent seizure under this section, the fine imposed will not be more than twice the value the merchandise would have had if it were genuine, according to the manufacturer's suggested retail price in the United States at the time of seizure.

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Robert C. Bonner,

Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection.

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Approved: July 21, 2003.

Timothy E. Skud,

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.

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[FR Doc. 03-18838 Filed 7-23-03; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4820-02-P