Couturiers Suing Websites That Sell Knock-Offs of Trademarked Gowns

Author: Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal
An association representing makers of bridal and prom gowns has launched a litigation attack on more than a thousand websites that allegedly violate their trademarks and sell cheap knockoffs of their products.

The latest salvo, American Bridal & Prom Industry Association v., filed this week in federal court in Trenton, names as defendants 250 sites, with names like and, and asserts claims of trademark counterfeiting and infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, and violation of the New Jersey Fair Trade Act.

The plaintiff, American Bridal & Prom Industry Association of Trenton, seeks damages of $2 million for each mark that has been infringed.

The association’s lawyer, Craig Hilliard of Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, says the rogue sites mislead consumers by falsely identifying their products with the plaintiffs’ trade names, and some include product photos taken directly from plaintiffs’ sites.

Hilliard has brought six such suits in the past year and in some cases has obtained injunctions shutting down defendant sites and freezing their PayPal accounts.

“Ultimately, our goal is to send a message to those who want to engage in this type of activity that the industry is serious about protecting its rights and is serious about pursuing relief for violation of those rights,” says Hilliard.

The gown manufacturers have been plagued in recent years with the onset of overseas entities that use their trademarks and goodwill to sell cheap counterfeit versions of their dresses, Hilliard says in court papers.

Some of the knock-off dresses have the same six-digit style numbers as the higher-cost versions, and a few of the defendant websites even include photos of plaintiff’s stores, to create a false impression that they have a bricks-and-mortar presence in the U.S., Hilliard says.

The plaintiffs ordered wedding gowns from some of the defendants and found them to be “nothing like the genuine dress,” with no country of origin label, no care instructions and no fiber content labeling, Hilliard said in court papers. The defendants’ dresses cost $300 each while the plaintiffs’ dresses that inspired their designs cost $1,500 each.

Most of the defendant websites are registered to addresses in China. They are served with the complaints via e-mails sent to addresses on their websites, Hilliard says.

The association was founded in 2012, in part, to investigate and confront such competition, he says.

Counterfeiters such as defendants are “notoriously difficult to stop,” he says. If one of their websites is shut down they lose no goods or profits but can merely move their business to another site.

But the litigation is intended to chill the defendants’ activities at the very least, Hilliard says.

The plaintiffs seek to enjoin defendants and their officers and employees from using plaintiffs’ marks, passing off any counterfeit goods as genuine products of the plaintiffs, selling any goods falsely bearing the plaintiffs’ marks, and registering domain names that use or incorporate plaintiffs’ marks.

They further want the defendants’ domain names disabled by registrars of such names, such as VeriSign, NeuStar and the Public Internet Registry, and to have the registrars turn control of those domain names over to the plaintiffs.

Preliminary injunctions have been issued in some of the prior suits filed over the past year and a half.

Only two defendants have responded to the complaints— in the first suit and in the fourth case—and both entered into confidential settlements. Each was represented by Mark Ingber, who heads a firm in Millburn, N.J.

Ingber says the plaintiffs are “not really interested in working to resolve their dispute with the particular defendants. The plaintiffs are aggressive in using the law to get the full judgments. When I get involved I’m always behind the eight-ball.”

“There certainly can be meritorious defenses against these plaintiffs,” he adds. “Some of their trademarks are questionable to say the least. It seems to me to be an effort, at least in part, to stop competition, which is legitimate here.”

In addition to filing suits on behalf of his clients, Hilliard has contacted Google and asked it to take a more active role in guarding against sale of counterfeit goods by business using its Sponsored Ads, Sponsored Images and AdWords programs to generate traffic on their websites. The company replied that it would look into the matter, he says.

Source: Toutant, Charles. “Couturiers Suing Websites That Sell Knock-Offs of Trademarked Gowns”. New Jersey Law Journal. ALM Publications, 14 March 2014. Web. 21 March 2014. <>

Buyer Beware: ABPIA featured on Good Morning America

Good Morning America

As Seen on ABC’s Good Morning America

Steve Lang, President of the American Bridal and Prom Industry Association, or the ABPIA, was featured in the Wedding Dress Wars segment on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning. Lang, who is also CEO of Mon Cheri Bridals, discussed the risks of purchasing a wedding gown from an online counterfeiter and the effect it’s having on both bride-to-be’s and the bridal industry. The segment reported how, due to the ABPIA’s efforts, a federal judge recently ordered over 1,000 knock-off websites sites to cease and desist, froze their online payment accounts and ordered that their sites be closed down. Lang adds, “The end game here is to get some federal recognition to the damage this is doing to our economy.”


To watch the full segment, click here:


March 2014 • ABPIA Update


Big Win in Court for ABPIA

On February 10, 2014, The American Bridal and Prom Industry Association was granted a huge milestone in its fight against counterfeit merchants by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Over the past several months, the ABPIA has filed multiple lawsuits against the owners of approximately 1,100 websites seeking damages and asking the Court to restrain those website owners from marketing and selling counterfeit dresses and formal wear. The Courts sided with the ABPIA and entered several preliminary injuctions against the counterfeit retailers, ordering all funds in defendants’ merchant accounts be froze on sites such as PayPal, and directing the registrars of the website domains to disable and lock it down until further notice.

Craig Hilliard, attorney for ABPIA, explains “ The Court’s Preliminary Injunction Order in each of these lawsuits is broad, and in addition to enjoining the website owners from selling counterfeit formalwear, each Order also: 1) freezes any merchant accounts of the websites maintained by third-party payment providers such as PayPal; and 2) directs the registrars of the domains to disable them and render them untransferable until the further Order of the Court. The PayPal and other accounts will remain frozen until the further directive of the Court. To date, none of the defendants named in any of these additional lawsuits has filed any response or otherwise opposed the relief sought by ABPIA.”

While this ruling will essentially shut-down the 1,100 websites named in the lawsuits, the ABPIA has just scratched the surface. Steve Lang, ABPIA president and CEO of Mon Cheri Bridals, LLC stated in a written release, “This is by no means the end of the road. In fact, it is only a beginning. ABPIA’s investigation has uncovered thousands of additional websites which are marketing and selling knockoff goods, and ABPIA will be filing additional lawsuits in the coming weeks to continue the fight against counterfeits.”

In addition to the lawsuits filed, the organization’s anti-counterfeiting efforts also include pursuing the cooperation of internet search engines, including Google. The ABPIA counsel is currently in dialogue with Google, Inc. to persuade the internet service provider to prohibit illegitimate merchants from using Google’s Sponsored Ads, Sponsored Images, and AdWords to generate traffic to websites using the protected trademarks and images of ABPIA members.

Members of the formalwear industry are urged to continue to support the efforts of the ABPIA in achieving its principal objectives:
1) to take any and all appropriate and lawful action against the marketing and sale of counterfeit formalwear products;
2) to educate consumers, retailers and members of the formal industry and the general public about the harm to consumers and fair competition in the formalwear industry caused by the marketing and sale of counterfeit products; and
3) to lobby governmental entities to aid the formalwear industry in the fight against the marketing and sale of counterfeit products.

Members of the industry can join the effort by contacting the ABPIA via its website, or by contacting Stephen Lang, ABPIA President and CEO of member company, Mon Cheri Bridals, LLC at

To read the full press release click here.

Channel 5 NEWS – Knockoff, No-Show Dresses Bought Online Dash Prom Dreams

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Some North Texas teenage girls ended up in tears this prom season because the dress they ordered online either never arrived or arrived looking like a cheap impostor of the designer dress they thought they ordered.

W.T. White High School senior Dashya McCuin has been dreaming about prom since she was a freshman, but the 17-year-old’s dreams were dashed when the dress she ordered online never arrived.

She had her sights set on a baby blue, strapless high-low gown embellished with ruffles and sequence from a website called

“She wanted that particular dress and, if you know my daughter, she has to have what she wants or she’s not going to leave you alone,” said Leslie McCuin, her mother.

Like many moms sending their princesses to prom, McCuin caved, allowing her daughter to buy her dress online. Dashya McCuin ordered it in March, weeks before her big day so that she’d get it in time. She even told the website her prom was two weeks before the actual date to make sure there was plenty of cushion.

But as prom inched closer, the dress was a no-show.

“It never came,” McCuin said.

McCuin was heartbroken and empty-handed and the clock was ticking. To add insult to injury, McCuin got an email from in April that read, in broken English, “I am sorry the dress still not shipped yet, I am afraid the dress can’t arrive you Saturday, maybe you can keep it for your next function?”

“I didn’t think people would do that,” said McCuin. “Like, proms and weddings are, like, so serious, so why would you play with people’s emotions like that?”

The American Bridal and Prom Industry Association said plenty of companies are playing with young ladies’ emotions. Two of the large local prom retailers, Terry Costa and Whatchamacallit, hear the same sad sob story time and time again.

“I’m tired of little girls coming through here at the last minute and they’re almost in tears when they walk through the front door,” said Tina Loyd, the CEO of Terry Costa, which has both a brick-and-mortar and an online store. “That’s not what it’s about.”

Loyd said the problem has been prevalent for the past three years, and 2013 is no different. In fact, she orders more dresses at the end of the season for what she called those “last-minute horror stories.”

ABPIA said more than 2,500 websites rip images of dresses off of legitimate designers’ websites and use them on their own websites without permission. They lure girls in so they think they’re buying designer dresses with a cheaper price tag. Instead, they sell knockoffs.

ABPIA’s head and CEO of Mon Cheri, Steve Lang, told the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit about 300,000 knockoffs came into the United States from abroad, costing the industry $120 million.

And families end up paying the price, when the online order goes south by never arriving or looking like a cheap imitation. The girls then have to go buy another dress and spend even more money.

The industry is so concerned about the issue that 12 major manufacturers filed a lawsuit aimed at shutting these websites down.

In Whatchamacallit’s Dallas location, owner Gary Graham keeps a knockoff of a Sherri Hill dress next to the real deal as a cautionary tale of an online order gone wrong.

Sherri Hill is an A-list designer among teen girls heading to their big dance. The Sherri Hill hanging in Whatchamacallit’s window is a turquoise short gown with elegant gold beading and fancy feathers. It retails for around $730. The imitation, bought online, cost about half, and is ice blue, looking more like an ice-skating costume gone wrong.

“Fake feathers versus real feathers; the stones aren’t even correct. The color is way off. The design, the style, is completely off,” Graham said.

White Settlement mother Teresa Davis can relate. Her daughter looked online for a dress to save money, and she found a beautiful sea-foam green dress with gorgeous beading on the bodice on a website called It’s the exact same image of the same dress as on the website of the legitimate designer, Night Moves by Allure, so she ordered it, spending more than $200.

But what arrived was a dramatic departure from the dreamy dress. It was a baby-blue gown with plastic beading in a connect-the-dot pattern and a skirt made of a mesh material. It came in a 10-by-12 envelope postmarked from China.

“The dress didn’t look anything like the one on the site; just a cheap knockoff,” Davis said.

Davis sent numerous emails to the company complaining about the quality and asking for a refund. Via email, the company told her the dress was “beautiful” and that there could be a “5 percent difference” between the product pictured and the product she received. She did not get a refund and bought her daughter another dress, which cost $500.

“I still cannot believe we spent that much money,” Davis said, adding that her daughter’s grandmother chipped in as part of her graduation present.

The NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit reached out to, based in Hong Kong, and, based in China. We never got a response from either company.

Neither the Davis family nor the McCuin family ever got a refund.

Experts advise when buying a prom dress online, call the company to ask if it’s an authorized dealer. Look for the “Top Prom” logo on the website. It was created by the industry to help identify websites, which are authorized to sell designers.

And if the discount is too deep, it’s a red flag.

“I wasn’t going to miss prom, so I had to find a new dress,” said McCuin, who finally settled on a bright pink high-low dress with golden beading that cost about $200 at Terry Costa. She paired it with matching jewelry and sparkling platform heels.

“It was fun. It was bright, so I was just like, ‘This is it,'” she said. “When I saw myself in it, I really liked it.”

“She kept saying, ‘Say yes to the dress, mom. Say yes to the dress,'” her mother said. “It was yes to the dress because she’s beautiful in it.”



Channel 2 NEWS – Getting a special prom dress includes avoid scams meant to rip you off

TODAY SHOW – Scammers target promgoers with fake designer dresses

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Video: As high school students all over the country begin their exhaustive searches for the perfect prom dress, scammers are cashing in on their excitement, selling cheap knockoff designer dresses online, claiming they’re the real deal. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports. – shop smart online: beware of counterfeit sites!

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As the Prom Committee’s Money Expert, I’m always looking for a bargain! Prom dresses can be expensive, which is exactly why shopping online for discounts is usually a great idea. But recently I discovered something while shopping online that I had to share:

Did you know there are counterfeit sites out there that use the real manufacturer’s dress shots to lure you into thinking you’re purchasing the same dress for a fraction of the cost? OMG, I had no idea these fake websites existed! There are so many horror stories about girls who have bought dresses from them–the dresses arrive and look nothing like the picture, but there is no way to return the dress or get a refund! That’s why I want to encourage all of you to shop at a retailer or online store that is authorized by the designer you’re interested in. Before you buy, just check out the “store locator” on the designer’s website for a list of trusted, authorized retailers and online stores.

Remember: If a deal seems too good to be true, it actually might be! Never give out your credit card info to a company that doesn’t seem legit. Trying to save some money isn’t worth getting scammed!



FOX News – Warning for prom dress buyers: Beware of online scams


Click for VIDEO


Afton DeWyse was so excited about prom. She went online and looked for the perfect dress and thought she found one at a great discount.

She placed an order for one that cost $175.  What arrived in the mail was worth less.

The sequins were falling off. The stitching is showing, the gown is made of lining instead of fabric.

Her sisters: “Oh my gosh, mom, it’s horrible, you can’t make her wear that to prom.”

She couldn’t possibly, so they went to the Allure Bridal Salon in Livonia only to find out they were not alone.

Rita Naman of Allure: “We have like three four times a week that they come in with that kind of stories and we’re going to see even more when it comes closer to prom.”

“Some of the dresses are made in China and they’re a cheaper version of what is shown on web sites,” says Naman.

In the end, a very nice dress from Allure was purchased for Afton, one that she can see, feel and try on in person.

The senior at Livonia Franklin learned an expensive lesson and hopes others will learn from her experience.

Buyer beware when it comes to purchasing prom dresses on line.


Side by Side Real and Fake Tony Bowls


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