Undercover Agents Made Online Purchases to Identify Sellers of Counterfeit Goods, Leading to Seizure of 150 Domain Names
As part of an effort to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes and defend against those who seek to profit illegally from American creativity, innovation and work, U.S. Federal authorities seized 150 domain names of websites involved in the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit goods.
Now in the control of the federal government, users that attempt to visit any of the 150 seized domains will be greeted with a large notice, alerting them that the domain name has been seized.
The domains were seized over Thanksgiving weekend and were part of “Operation In Our Sites,” a coordinated effort that involves the Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), and the FBI.
“Through this operation we are aggressively targeting those who are selling counterfeit goods for their own personal gain while costing our economy much needed revenue and jobs,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Intellectual property crimes harm businesses and consumers, alike, threatening economic opportunity and financial stability, and today we have sent a clear message that the Department will remain ever vigilant in protecting the public’s economic welfare and public safety through robust intellectual property enforcement.”
A September 2010 report from MarkMonitor revealed that suspected counterfeit ecommerce sites attracted over 120 million annual visits, almost half the traffic generated by the REAL, legitimate dot com Web sites.
“Internet counterfeiting, piracy and related cybersquatting is a severe and growing problem for brands with far-reaching impact on revenue and expense,” explained Frederick Felman, CMO at MarkMonitor. “Aggressive and coordinated action by brands, law enforcement and Internet infrastructure providers – such as this ICE action – slows the perpetrators’ momentum and provides relief for brands and consumers.”
“More and more Americans are doing their holiday shopping online, and they may not realize that purchasing counterfeit goods results in American jobs lost, American business profits stolen and American consumers receiving substandard products,” said ICE Director John Morton. “And the ramifications can be even greater because the illicit profits made from these types of illegal ventures often fuel other kinds of organized crime.”
In order to confirm the shady practices of these counterfeit operations, federal agents, operating undercover, purchased many online products, including professional sports jerseys, golf equipment, DVD sets, footwear, handbags and sunglasses, representing a variety of trademarks from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. In most cases, the goods were shipped directly into the United States from suppliers in other countries. If the trademark holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods and associated websites were obtained.
These latest actions by federal authorities was the eighth phase of Operation In Our Sites, and the second year that a phase of Operation In Our Sites has coincided with Cyber Monday. In November 2010, 82 websites were seized during the Cyber Monday-related operation.
Since the operation’s June 2010 launch, the IPR Center has seized a total of 350 domain names, and the seizure banner has received more than 77 million individual views.
“We will not tolerate those who seek to profit by abusing the Internet and stealing intellectual property at the expense of authors, artists and inventors,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work aggressively to combat intellectual property crime.”