Sixth Circuit Affirms Conviction of Counterfeit DVD Importer
By Dmitriy Tishyevich – Edited by Nicola Carah
United States v. Teh
Sixth Circuit, July 31, 2008, No. 06-2371
On July 31, the 6th Circuit affirmed the conviction of Thiah Teh, who was indicted after airport officials searched his luggage and found what appeared to be 756 counterfeited DVDs and 284 counterfeited DVD sleeve packages. Teh was found guilty and sentenced to one year of probation under 18 U.S.C. § 545, which imposes fines and up to twenty years imprisonment for “knowingly import[ing] . . . merchandise contrary to law.” Although the government did not indicate at trial what statutory provision provided the basis for the “contrary to law” element of the § 545 violation, it asserted on appeal that Teh’s actions violated 18 U.S.C. § 2318, which provides felony penalties for up to 5 years for importing counterfeit labels, documentation, or packaging.
Teh argued on appeal, inter alia, that a copyright violation could not serve as the basis for a § 545 offense under Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985), which held that distribution of bootleg sound recordings could not be prosecuted under the National Stolen Property Act (“NSPA”). The Supreme Court reasoned that, by enacting the Copyright Act, Congress intended to address copyright violations with more precision than the NSPA would allow. In addition, the Court also expressed concern that civil copyright violations might otherwise come within the ambit of the criminal trafficking statute, which carries significantly more serious penalties.