Fall in UK website suspensions mirrors drop in IP infringements

Law enforcement efforts to take down websites involved in the online sale of intellectual property-infringing goods seems to be having an impact in the UK.

There has been a dramatic fall in the number of .UK domain names suspended due to suspected links to criminal activity, which is accounted for "entirely" by reduced numbers of sites suspended because they sell counterfeit goods or pirated content, according to UK registry Nominet.

The encouraging trend comes off the back of a partnership between Nominet and the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) – dubbed Operation Ashiko – that specifically targeted of websites selling and distributing counterfeit goods.

All told, there were 3,434 .UK domain names suspended in the year to end October 2021, down from 22,158 in the prior 12 months.

PIPCU – which processes and co-ordinates requests relating to IP infringements from nationwide sources – was the main agency referring domains for suspension, accounting for 2,487 of the total,.

It was followed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau with 841 requests – a big increase on the previous year - and the Financial Conduct Authority with 75.

"We have seen an increase in some reporting agencies this year, particularly around online fraud, and financial crime," said  Nick Wenban-Smith, Nominet's general counsel.

"The overall number of .UK domains associated with criminality is still lower than previous years which is a positive outcome for all users," he added.

Details of Operation Ashiko remain under wraps as investigations are ongoing, but it "has delivered a positive outcome as online criminals are no longer seeing .UK as a viable option."

Nominet's anti-phishing drive, Domain Watch, saw 5,484 domains suspended at the point of registration, up from 5,006 in the prior year.

In addition, as of October 28, 4,330 .UK domains related to COVID-19 remain suspended, including those suspended at the point of registration, pending further registrant checks.

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