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Cracking down on IP crime

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Enforcement

I have spent nearly 20 years working in and for businesses that create intellectual property. In that time I have come up against every justification for purchasing counterfeit goods. One of the most common being “I wouldn’t have bought the real handbag anyway”. Or in the case for downloading pirated music or films “It doesn’t really hurt anyone”. It can be hard for people to make the connection between a seemingly innocent activity and organised gangs that are also involved in other serious criminal activity.

The IP Crime Report shows that this activity is prevalent across the whole of the UK. The report highlights some successes in the fight against criminal activity that takes the creativity and ideas of others and uses it for illegitimate means.

What’s being done?

Operation Jasper was a ground-breaking initiative coordinated by the National Markets Group. They directed resources from over 60 public and private sector organisations towards criminal activity on Facebook. The result was the removal of thousands of listings for counterfeit goods along with many profiles. Alliance members (Anti-Counterfeiting Group, BPI and Federation Against Copyright Theft) helped make this happen.

An operation like this highlights the level of criminal activity online and the need for coordinated responses. This helps develop best practice by drawing on expertise from across a wide range of agencies.

Budgetary pressures on the police and trading standards mean that those seeking to protect their brands, designs, content and ideas need to find innovative ways to reduce harm to their current and future success. This is also true in the online sphere. The sheer volume of counterfeiting and piracy means that it is not possible to target every individual responsible for running a pirate website nor to take down that website with ease.

Disruption and prevention solutions include the ‘follow the money’ approach. This targets the revenue pirate websites generate through advertising as well as the payment systems used to move their money. With the cooperation of industry, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), through Operation Creative, is achieving measurable success in this area. At the same time they continue to target organised criminals online through arrests and domain takedowns.

There is also the need for strong deterrents. The Alliance has campaigned for changes to the Copyright Designs & Patents Act. They want to increase the criminal sanctions for online copyright infringement to match those for physical goods. We are now awaiting government proposals to carry this forward following the consultation in the summer. This would create a powerful disincentive to those running pirate websites or involved in the wholesale distribution of pirated content. The other side of the coin is ensuring that consumers are able to discover and access legitimate content online. The launch this month of Get It Right From A Genuine Site is an important step towards this aim. The campaign is using TV and radio ads, online activity and events in cities across the UK.

Creativity is the theme of the campaign. The UK’s largest ever multi-city street art project highlights the work and talent of local creators through a series of giant murals.

It’s inevitably true that, as with other criminal behaviour, we will never get rid of counterfeiting and piracy. What we can do is create the best possible environment for legitimate content to flourish. We also need to encourage everyone, young and old, to use genuine sites and services to buy goods and content. This will help the UK maintain its position as one of the world’s great centres of creativity and generate jobs and new opportunities for innovation.

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  1. Comment by Clarification please posted on

    "Or in the case for downloading pirated music or films “It doesn’t really hurt anyone”. It can be hard for people to make the connection between a seemingly innocent activity and organised gangs that are also involved in other serious criminal activity"

    I must admit I am really struggling to see the connection between downloading a film from a peer to peer network (i.e. copying a film from a friend over the internet) to organised gangs or other serious criminal activity. Perhaps the author would like to clarify this? May I humbly suggest that there is no connection and linking the two is simply an attempt to over-criminalize copyright infringement.

    • Replies to Clarification please>

      Comment by Eddy Leviten posted on

      I am very happy to respond. In no way am I suggesting that the 'end user', ie the person downloading/streaming is involved in serious organised crime, but evidence from the UK and in other countries clearly shows that there are dedicated and organised criminal networks who are focussed on getting hold of films, TV programmes, music, games, books and other works and making them available on the internet.
      This may take the form of illegally recording a film in a cinema, editing and enhancing the file for better delivery over streaming or filesharing networks (, running dedicated sites offering infringing music files ( or generating substantial revenues from advertising carried on sites predicated on pirate content (
      I guess it all depends on whether you consider it to be both socially and morally acceptable to steal other peoples' creative output and distribute it without their permission. If you think it's ok (and there are some who do, unfortunately) then you are never going to listen to listen to the evidence.
      However, I am generally an optimistic person and I hope that your question is now answered here. Ultimately it doesn't matter who is doing the thieving, distributing and selling of pirated content and counterfeit goods but what your moral code is.
      The internet is an amazing thing - giving creators, designers, manufacturers and retailers a global shop window. But, as with every legitimate channel, there are ways that it can be subverted for criminal gain and it has to be right that this can be dealt with.
      This does not mean criminalising individual end users but it does mean targeting the operators and owners of criminal websites, the people responsible for capturing the content and those making counterfeit goods and selling counterfeit goods.

      • Replies to Eddy Leviten>

        Comment by Clarification please posted on

        Eddy Leviten,

        Thank you for the detailed and informative reply of 11 November. I completely accept that it is a moral choice how we are to access copyright protected works. Personally, I do not access any so-called "pirated" content (and as a result when I want to watch a film I am forced to sit through minutes of unskippable copyright warnings).

        My main objection is the current framing of this moral choice by the music and film industries and by government. The current message is that if you consume pirated content then you are inevitably funding serious organised crime gangs, potentially funding much more horrendous crimes. See for example the opening paragraph of your blog post. In your reply you have provided three links that purport to show evidence of the "organised criminal networks" involved in copyright piracy. The first is simply a PR release. The second and third relate to UK-based individuals who appear to have been operating alone and have no links to criminal networks. As such, your links appear to actually contradict the bold claim that consumption of pirated content is linked to "organised gangs" or other "serious criminal activity". It all just seems a little intellectually dishonest.

  2. Comment by TM Eye posted on

    The most successful and impactive strategy available to brands is the use of private criminal prosecutions. The success is measurable in the increased number of convictions for IP crime and the significant reduction in the open sale of fake goods in the markets and online for those brands who make use of this robust enforcement action.

    Recently one particular brand, new to the use of private prosecutions, saw a significant reduction from 40 plus stalls openly selling fake goods at a Saturday market in Hertfordshire, to no goods openly on sale in the following weeks . That continues.

    That was the direct result of a number of traders being prosecuted by way of private criminal prosecutions for Trademark offences for selling that brands clothing. All pleaded guilty.

    The impact of robust enforcement action by the private sector does not receive the recognition and support despite its success.