Over a million websites seized in global operation

More than 1 million website domain names that were allegedly selling counterfeit automotive parts, electrical components, personal care items and other fake goods were seized in the past year through the combined efforts of law-enforcement agencies across the world, high-profile industry representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations.

Mitch Stoltz, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned that seizing website domain names without meaningful due process can lead to injustices.

“In the past, ‘Operation In Our Sites” has shut down law-abiding websites, including a music blog that
was taken down for over a year on a mere accusation, without any evidence of copyright or trademark infringement,” said Stoltz. “This is a dangerous power for federal agencies to wield. Seizing over one million domain names inevitably means interfering with lawful speech.”

Officials used criminal and civil legal tools for attacking websites accused of infringing copyright protections, a practice that has been criticized by some free speech advocates as a violation of government’s promise to protect personal liberty.

The ongoing intellectual property enforcement initiative targeting fake websites, dubbed Operation In Our Sites, was facilitated by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), a joint-task force agency led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s appropriate for DHS to focus on unsafe goods such as defective automobile parts, but that focus does not justify a wide-ranging and unaccountable effort to edit the Internet,” said Stoltz. “At a minimum, there must be oversight by the courts, along with notice to website owners and an opportunity to respond–just as there would be if DHS sought to seize a newspaper publisher.”

The IPR Center, which stands at the forefront of the U.S. government’s response to IP theft, worked directly with key international law-enforcement authorities and industry organizations representing the electronics sector, luxury brand-name designers, film and entertainment and several entities specializing in apparel and accessories through the major enforcement effort.

Roughly 33,600 website domain names were criminally seized in a collaborative effort between ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Europol, Interpol and police agencies from 26 different countries. Industry partners participating in the operation were fully responsible for civilly seizing 1.21 million domain names and shutting down 2.2 million erroneous ecommerce links featured on social media platforms and third-party marketplaces.

“The IPR Center is committed to supporting enforcement actions that target copyright-infringing websites threatening the health and safety of unsuspecting consumers by offering dangerous counterfeit goods,” said IPR Center Director Alex Khu. “Collaborative efforts with external law enforcement agencies and industry have led to a crackdown on intellectual property theft that negatively impacts economies and funds organizations involved in other criminal activities.”

Investigations led by HSI resulted in the removal of copyright-infringing websites that sold counterfeit airbags and integrated sensors, both commodities that present a potential safety hazard. An investigation based in Louisiana led to the seizure of five website domain names – including Chinaseatbelt.com; Airbagpart.com; Chinasafetybelt.com; Fareurope.com; and Far-europe.com – involved in the sale of fake automotive parts. A joint case between HSI and Department of Defense investigative agencies resulted in the removal of PRBlogics.com, a copyright-infringing website offering counterfeit integrated sensors.

Each year, the market is flooded with counterfeit products being sold at stores, on street corners and online. Additionally, criminals have taken advantage of the internet to deceive, sell and ship fake products directly to American consumers. The most popular counterfeit products seized each year include watches, jewelry, handbags, wallets, wearing apparel/accessories, consumer electronics/parts, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

The IPR Center – formally codified in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 – is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The center uses the expertise of its 24 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the warfighters.


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