Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) have called for concerted, cross-border action in response to intellectual property crime. The call follows the publication of the 2017 Situation Report on Counterfeiting and Piracy in the European Union, a joint project between the two bodies.
The report establishes that organised criminal groups are involved in IP crime. It also finds that EU-based criminal gangs involved in distributing counterfeit goods rely predominantly on manufacturers based abroad, but then organise importation, transportation, storage and distribution of the counterfeit goods within the EU. The majority of counterfeit goods come from China: the development of the Silk Road and the corresponding increasing use of rail and maritime transport between China and the EU support also new threats in the IPR crime landscape.
According to Rob Wainwright, Europol’s Executive Director, intellectual property crime is extensive in the EU and carries very many adverse effects. “It harms our economies, generates enormous illicit profits for organised crime groups, and often causes direct physical harm to citizens in the form of the growing supply of fake health and safety goods. This report shines a light on the extent of this criminal phenomenon and calls for more concerted, cross-border action in response,” he noted.
Among the report’s conclusions was that piracy was an activity that would have to be monitored closely in the future. “The unauthorised online dissemination of protected content is a major concern. The illegal use of television broadcasts also poses a challenge. Fraud in this field is often also connected to acts of digital piracy,” it found.
“While digital piracy still exists in a physical form as illegal CDs and DVDs, the most prevalent current threat stems from the online dissemination of protected content. Well known acts of piracy on the open Internet include the sharing of protected content through BitTorrent networks, illegally facilitating downloading or streaming from central sources and (under certain conditions) illegally making links to IPR-protected content freely available without rights holder consent,” it noted.
“Television broadcasts using internet protocol television (IPTV) are digital and are available on a variety of platforms such as mobile phones, tablets, smart TVs and set-top boxes (STBs). In recent years, the use of STBs to access large numbers of television channels, films and other protected content has increased due to low prices, improving quality of services, reliability and user friendliness. The illegal servers are almost always hosted with companies based outside the jurisdiction of the countries targeted by the provider,” it advised.
According to the report, the number of operators providing illegal IPTV appears to be on the rise and this trend is expected to continue at an accelerated rate in the future.
In terms of financing the organised sharing of IPR-infringing digital content online, the report suggests that the main source of revenue for infringing web services continues to be derived from advertising, but illegal profits are also generated through subscription payments, payments per download and voluntary user donations. Altogether, 51 per cent of advertising on 280 suspected piracy websites available in Europe in the summer of 2015 were connected to various types of malware (malvertising) and 91 per cent of this publicity originated from only 10 advertising intermediaries. Furthermore, 41 per cent of the illegal websites identified were also engaged in further advertising fraud, such as stacked pixel stuffing.
Along with the perceived increase in the number of illegal websites, the report noted that legal sources providing access to digital content have also been increasing year by year, and such sites have evolved significantly, both in terms of the number of services that they offer, and the quality and variety of their content. “However, for many users, identifying whether a service is legal or not continues to be a challenge. It is known that some European Internet users continue to mistakenly take the fact that a digital content service is freely available online without the authorities having taken action as a sign that the service provides legal access to digital content,” it noted.