BEIJING (Reuters) - Merchants suspended for selling pirated goods at Beijing's Silk Street Market, long famous for its knock-off designer ware, protested on Friday that a law firm representing foreign luxury brands had ruined their livelihood.
Fifty people blocked the doorway and banged on the walls at the 11th-floor office of IntellecPro, whose clients Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel and Burberry have an anti-piracy agreement at the market.
The protesters had operated registered stands that were temporarily shut this week for selling counterfeit goods.
The crowd demanded to see evidence that their shops had sold fake goods and held up signs reading, "You want to get rich, we want to fill our stomachs."
"They just came and they forced into our office since maybe the day before yesterday, and they stayed the whole day long," said Zhao Tian-ying, IntellecPro's legal consultant. "They said the evidence is untruthful."
Earlier in the week, they stormed the office, sweeping papers off desks as they intimidated staff, an employee surnamed Peng said. On Friday, the firm's abandoned reception area was still littered with newspapers and cigarette butts.
The Silk Street Market lost a high-profile lawsuit against the luxury brands in 2006, but has since worked to clear fake goods from its stalls.
Six other hawkers, in this case unregistered, were caught selling fake Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags on Thursday. Registered merchants told the Beijing News that the market's poor reputation was due to their unregistered competitors.
Western companies and politicians have complained for years about lax enforcement of intellectual property laws in China.
Pirated goods from unreleased DVDs to North Face jackets and Microsoft software are widely available in stores and on streets across Beijing. Fake goods markets are on the itineraries of many tour groups.
China last week repeated vows to strengthen protection of copyrights and trademarks after the United States claimed victory in a groundbreaking World Trade Organization case.
The Silk Street Market last year unveiled its own brand, SILKSTREET, and, apparently with a straight face, warned counterfeiters not to copy it.
Reporting by Reuters TV and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Lucy Hornby