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Report: Piracy thrives in pandemic

March 8, 2022

By Colin Mann

The latest Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment, produced jointly between Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), reveals that the distribution of counterfeit goods has been thriving during the Covid-19 pandemic. The health crisis has presented new opportunities for trade in counterfeit and pirated products, and criminals have adjusted their business models to the meet the new global demand.

The report, based on EU-wide data and Europol’s operational information, confirms that counterfeiting and piracy continue to pose a serious threat to the health and safety of consumers, as well as to the European economy. Imports of counterfeit and pirated goods reached €119 billion in 2019, representing 5.8  per cent of all goods entering the EU, according to the latest data from OECD and EUIPO.

The threat assessment highlights that the distribution of counterfeit products mostly relies on digital platforms, a trend which has been reinforced by the pandemic and widespread online consumption. Counterfeit goods are offered on online marketplaces, via live-streaming, videos and advertising on social media platforms, and instant messaging services, usually targeting customers with misleading discounts or low-price branded products.

The Covid-19 pandemic also led to an increased offer of illicit digital content, which is often linked to other cybercriminal activities. Piracy is now mostly a digital crime, and websites illegally distributing audio-visual content are hosted on servers across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The criminals involved are adept at using advanced technical countermeasures. In somecases, digital content piracy is linked to other cybercrime activities such as crypto-jacking or the  distribution of malware. Pirates exploit new technologies to conceal digital traces and use proxy services to create resilient hosting networks. The online presence during the Covid-19 pandemic led to an increased offer of high-quality streaming devices and a variety of illicit content offers.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has presented new business opportunities for criminals to distribute counterfeit and substandard goods,” noted Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle. “At best, these products will not perform as well as authentic ones. At worst, they can fail catastrophically. Law enforcement seizures indicate that the production of these goods is increasingly taking place within the EU, while the Covid-19 pandemic has further entrenched the criminals’ reliance on the digital domain to source and distribute their illegal goods. This report shines a light on the extent of this criminal phenomenon and calls for concerted, cross-border action in response as we enter the post-Covid economic recovery. The unscrupulous counterfeiters should be the only ones paying a steep price.”

“This new threat assessment report casts new light on the scope, magnitude and trends of counterfeiting and piracy in the EU, and the damage it can cause to consumers’ health and to legitimate businesses, particularly during these challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic,” added Christian Archambeau, Executive Director of the EUIPO. “Through our close collaboration with Europol, we will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement authorities in the fight against IP crime.

Categories: Articles, Business, Consumer Behaviour, Content, Markets, Piracy, Policy, Regulation, Research

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