Sellers of counterfeit goods online saw their lives made a little more difficult in the lead up to the busiest shopping period of the year, Christmas, as a Europol-led operation has seized 292 domain names. While the US government also participated, seizing another 29,684 domains.
The seizures, announced on 1 December, are part of an ongoing operation led by the European law enforcement agency in conjunction with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), together with 25 law enforcement agencies from 19 countries.
Overall, Europol-led operations have seized 1829 domain names since the IOS project began in November 2012. The latest operation commenced in August when Europol and the IPR Center (NIPRCC) began receiving leads from trademark holders regarding the infringing websites, which were then circulated to law enforcement authorities in the participating countries.
Participating countries in the project called ‘In Our Sites (IOS) Transatlantic V’ were Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom along with the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, DC, for the United States.
The IPR Center, which is an amalgamation of 23 federal law enforcement partners, also include civil actions taken by private industry who participated in the operation over the course of an entire year.
The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments. Visitors typing those domain names into their web browsers will find either a banner that notifies them of the seizure and content educating them about the crime of wilful copyright infringement, or the visitors will not be able to access the website anymore. The most popular counterfeit products concerned include the traditional luxury goods but also sportswear, electronics, pharmaceuticals and pirated goods like movies and music.
"The infringements of intellectual property rights is a growing problem in our economies and for millions of producers and consumers. Europol is committed to working with its international partners to crack down on the criminal networks responsible for this illegal activity," says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.
While seizing the websites is only one way of disrupting and hindering the criminals behind the sale of counterfeits on the internet, law enforcement authorities also now focus increasingly on the ‘follow-the-money’ approach, in line with the EU Action Plan on the enforcement of intellectual property rights.
“Working with our international partners on operations like this shows the true global impact of IP crime,” said NIPRCC Acting Director Bruce Foucart. “Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere. Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites.”
Counterfeit products being sold online not only rip off the consumer and provide shoddy products, but also put their personal financial information at risk. Consumers are encouraged to report counterfeit products and websites selling them, but also encouraged to raise awareness with others because counterfeiting crimes result in many victims. In addition, the crimes can cause revenue and tax losses, unemployment, environmental, health and safety issues for humans and animals, human exploitation and child labour.