A dedicated Winnipeg small businessman has paid a steep price after RCMP caught him selling counterfeit NHL team merchandise.
But, a Manitoba judge heard this week, Michael Stoel's copyright-infringement case likely had far more to do with disreputable online suppliers than a willful intent to peddle illegitimate pro-hockey wares.
Stoel, who owns Winnipeg's two Pylon Pop Culture stores, pleaded guilty Monday to breaching the federal Copyright Act and was fined $4,000.
RCMP officers probing sales of counterfeit goods in March 2012 found the stores were selling copyright-infringing belt buckles and other NHL team-branded goods — including a clock featuring the new logo of the Winnipeg Jets.
The manner in which the goods were packaged for sale was "miles away" from how the NHL brands and markets its products, said Crown attorney Victoria Cornick.
Lawyers for the league indicated its official products have the NHL logo "all over" their packaging as part of their branding strategy, said Cornick.
RCMP seized about 40 per cent of the merchandise at Stoel's stores, court heard. While some items were returned, he agreed to forfeit the rest that police carted off. It was stock worth in the range of $17,000 to $25,000, provincial court Judge Catherine Carlson heard.
His wallet has been emptied further by having to pay legal fees.
"That's quite a big hit for a retailer at the scale of Pop Pylon and Mr. Stoel," Cornick said.
The whole ordeal has been a massive learning experience for Stoel, said defence lawyer Jason Kendall. "A lot was learned," he said.
Perils of web suppliers
The case is a cautionary tale about the perils of ordering from Internet-based suppliers, the lawyer suggested.
"It's common now to get these types of supplies from these online warehousing entities, as a lot of them are licensed," he said.
"But what we came to realize (is) that even within what could be a licensed distributorship, there's a bit of a virus there because wares that aren't necessarily made by that proper manufacturer are making their way in," Kendall said.
Stoel learned he needed to have "heightened awareness" when dealing with online distributors, said Kendall. "Certain suppliers have been cut out completely — and new ones have been acquired," Kendall added. "Mr. Stoel recognizes he must play by the rules."
He's a 52-year-old man of good character and a hardworking entrepreneur who was left embarrassed in the city's retail community when word got out about the case, Carlson was told. He's had no history of trouble or past warnings from RCMP about his business practices.
"Obviously mistakes were made by me, not in a malicious way," Stoel told Carlson. "Hopefully I'm coming out of this — can put it all behind and move forward with a whole new way of doing it," he said.
Carlson allowed him 60 days to pay the $4,000 fine.