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Increase in the number of copyright offenders prosecuted, report says

The number of individuals found guilty of violating UK copyright laws has increased, according to a report into intellectual property (IP) crime.10 Aug 2011

A total of 563 people were successfully prosecuted for offences under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) in 2009, a rise from 478 individuals in 2008, according to the report.

The CDPA states that "copyright in a work is infringed by a person who without the licence of the copyright owner does, or authorises another to do, any of the acts restricted by the copyright".

"The number of copyright cases continue to grow year on year and the 2009 figure is more than double that of 2006. 75% of all copyright cases resulted in a positive conviction," the annual report (70-page / 3.2MB PDF) into IP crime by the IP Crime Group said.

The IP Crime Group was formed by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in 2004. The group coordinates with Government, law enforcement agencies and industry groups to combat against piracy and counterfeiting activity.

A fall in the number of people convicted of infringing UK trade mark laws meant the overall number of successfully prosecuted IP criminals fell to 1364 from 1391 in 2008, it said. Overall 80% of criminal cases under trade mark and copyright laws resulted in guilty verdicts, the report said.

Although the number criminals convicted under the UK's Trade Mark Act (TMA) fell for the fourth successive year, trademark offences are still more prevalent than copyright crimes and that will continue to be the case, the report said.

Under the provisions of the TMA it is illegal to use an identical trade mark sign to one already registered for the same purpose. It is also illegal to use a similar or identical sign to one trade marked already for identical or similar purposes if there is "a likelihood of confusion" from the public's perspective, including associating the sign with the trade mark.

The TMA also states that a trader infringes a registered trade mark if they use a sign " identical with or similar to the trade mark" and "used in relation to goods or services which are not similar to those for which the trade mark is registered" where the use of the sign "without due cause, takes unfair advantage of, or is detrimental to, the distinctive character or the repute" of a UK trade mark that has a reputation.

"It remains more likely that criminal prosecution will primarily be focused around trade marks, as the proof of existence and use of a trade mark is easier to establish compared with that of copyright protected material," the report said.

Instances where digital music products have been seized more than doubled in the year up to 31 March 2011 compared to the 12 months previously, according to figures in the report provided by the British Recorded Music Industry Anti-Piracy Unit.

"There is a significant increase in the total number of products seized compared to the previous year (+72%) with a clear indication of shift between physical products (CD related products are down 31%) and digital products (151% increase)," the report said.

The report said that IP criminals are taking advantage of the fact that there is public demand for fake goods and because there is a perception that they can make high profits with little risk of being caught.

Speedier internet access and "overly bureaucratic and time consuming" anti-counterfeit activities are also being exploited by IP criminals, whilst some involved in online digital piracy are driven on by the belief that all media should be free, the report said. IP criminals are also exploiting the fact that there is not one single authority taking overall responsibility for combating piracy and counterfeiting activity, it said.

"Many different stakeholders are involved in combating IP crime and, with no single body responsible for the coordination and tasking of activity, it becomes difficult to effectively manage the response, resulting in opportunities being missed or duplication of effort," the report said.

The report warned of increased instances of fake medicines, alcohol and electrical products appearing and said that a crackdown has begun on illicit trading on the back of the Olympics brand ahead of the London Olympics next year.

“The selling of counterfeited goods and pirated material harms the UK economy, while some fake goods can be dangerous to unwary consumers," Baroness Wilcox said in an IPO statement.

“The Government is committed to tackling these issues. We have a dedicated intellectual property crime team who are specialists in providing support to partner agencies such as Trading Standards and the Police. I am pleased to see a continued, collaborative approach by Government agencies, law enforcement and industry. We are tackling these crimes together and this report highlights many of the successes achieved throughout the year,” Baroness Wilcox said.