In the ever evolving world of digital and Internet based technology, brand and copyright owners have become acutely aware of the difficulties involved in protecting their intellectual property rights. Counterfeiting, illegal downloading and illegal file-sharing have been consistent and growing problems during the Internet revolution.
In an effort to tackle this growing problem, a new police unit has been created in the UK specifically to deal with crimes relating to the infringement of intellectual property rights. As we described in July, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) was launched in September 2013 with the explicit task of combating illegal downloading and the sale of counterfeit goods (particularly via the Internet). The unit is being run by the City of London police and has secured government funding to the tune of £2.65m over two years via the UK intellectual property office (UK IPO), part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The PIPCU has had an immediate impact following the arrest of two men by detectives in Birmingham and the seizure of suspected counterfeit DVD box sets with an estimated value of £40,000, including such popular titles as Game of Thrones, CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) and Vampire Diaries.
Explaining the reasons for the launch of this specialist police unit, the City of London police commissioner Adrian Leppard said: "Intellectual property crime is already costing our economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year and placing thousands of jobs under threat, and left unchecked and free to feed on new technology could destroy some of our most creative and productive industries. Launching PIPCU we are making a statement of intent and sending out a clear warning to organised crime that the UK has just become a more hostile place for those who seek to make criminal capital on the back of others' honest endeavours."
These sentiments were echoed by Lord Younger, the minister for intellectual property, when he commented that“Criminals are continually finding new ways to exploit, produce fakes and abuse the intellectual property rights of British businesses, despite the progress made combating intellectual property crime. It not only damages the UK economy, but substandard goods and services can pose real threats to consumers too. Intelligent, co-ordinated and effective enforcement is key to tackling those who exploit the hard work of others."
With the ever-growing accessibility and influence of the Internet on our daily lives, the temptation for criminals to breach and disregard intellectual property rights via illegal downloading and the sale of counterfeits has never been greater. It is estimated that around seven million people visit sites that offer illegal content in the UK every month. Globally, it is estimated that illegally downloaded music, films and software cost the industries around £51bn annually (a figure that is expected to triple by 2015).
Holders of intellectual property rights will be heartened by the creation of the PIPCU as this sends out a strong message to would be criminals that this type of ‘victimless’ crime is taken very seriously by the UK Government.
However, as the technology in this area is moving at a furious pace that shows no sign of slowing down, the way we purchase and view entertainment is becoming more geared towards digital platforms that are clearly susceptible to crimes of this nature.
The increasing reliance on digital platforms is highly likely to present serious ongoing challenges to intellectual property rights holders regarding the protection and enforcement of their brands and copyright. Consequently, the creation of the PIPCU can only be seen as a significant step in the right direction.