UK IPO: campaigns against online pirates bear fruit

With a survey one in eight people in the UK downloading illegal content during a three-month period and an estimated five million illegal streaming devices in UK homes, the fight against online piracy seems like a losing battle.

The UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) latest annual report on IP crime suggests however that progress is being made in tackling the problem despite fiscal restrictions on enforcement agencies, and claims the UK is "winning the fight against IP crime.

Content piracy is evolving fast, with downloading of content being rapidly replaced by streaming services, and 'traditional' copyright crime involving infringing DVDs dropping by half, whilst online infringement has risen by a third, it says.

That has demanded a shift in enforcement approach. Among the victories is a 64 per cent fall in advertising on infringing websites over the last year thanks to a campaign known as Operation Creative, organised by the City of London Police's Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), hitting the unlicensed services which facilitate the activity in the pocket.

An agreement with search engines Google and Bing agreed last year to prevent infringing content appearing prominently in search results, the introduction of higher penalties for online copyright infringement and a successful prosecution against Internet protocol television (IPTV) are examples of successful initiatives, says the report, as is the appointment of two specialist financial investigators to the IPO's intelligence hub.

"We no longer face the prospect of illegal downloading and streaming of copyright material from a position of weakness," says the IPO. "We understand the threat, we understand how it is delivered, we are developing case law in national and international courts and we are taking action."

There's still some way to go. A trend towards the use of illicit streaming devices – highlighted in last year's report – continues to gain traction and "has extended to mainstream products in some parts of the UK, undermining the creative industries involved in bringing films and TV shows to market," according to Giles York, chief constable of Sussex Police.

The report also covers other areas of IP crime, and notes that two million suspected IP-infringing items were intercept by the UK Border Force in 2016/17, headed by tobacco products, toys, games and sporting articles, foods and beverages, personal care goods and clothing/accessories.

The top five categories investigated by trading standards were tobacco, clothing, alcohol, footwear and cosmetics, with the most common outlets for counterfeits ordinary shops, social media, auction sites, websites and private residences, in that order.

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