Europol touts results of six-month operation against online piracy and counterfeit goods

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As of this year’s Cyber Monday, November 28, law enforcement agencies across several continents have taken down 12,526 websites, disconnected 32 servers used to distribute and host illegal content for 2,294 television channels and shut down 15 online shops selling counterfeit products on social media sites, according to Europol.

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The 13th edition of Operation In Our Sites, a Europol-coordinated operation to take down websites offering counterfeit goods or involved in online piracy, supported by Eurojust and INTERPOL, targets, investigates and seizes websites hosting a variety of illicit content. The main issues continue to be intellectual property infringement on trademarks, as well as on copyrighted content available on internet protocol television (IPTV) and movie streaming services, peer-to-peer sharing platforms and hosting websites.

This operation was within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), which tackles the most important threats posed by organised and serious international crime affecting the EU. EMPACT strengthens intelligence, strategic and operational cooperation between national authorities, EU institutions and bodies, and international partners. EMPACT runs in four-year cycles focusing on common EU crime priorities.

Lavish lifestyles

In the course of this six month operation, 10 search warrants were issued and 14 people were detained or formally accused of intellectual property crimes.

In one specific action, Spanish Police arrested four people and one person was formally charged. According to preliminary investigative results, the prime suspect in this investigation was earning up to EUR 150 000 a month and living a lavish lifestyle in a luxury house, driving expensive cars and embarking on extravagant vacations all over the world. The criminal network dedicated itself to large-scale marketing and distribution of pirated audio-visual content  on the internet. As part of the operation, Spanish police disconnected 32 servers hosting the illicit content and seized cash, documents and two luxury vehicles.

Key findings

Key findings of the operation that took place from 1 May to 14 November also show that more counterfeit products are being assembled within the European Union’s borders and that intellectual property crime is closely intertwined with serious and organised crime.

Not only did the operation capture successes against online piracy, but it also had results in the physical world. Investigators also seized 127,365 counterfeit products such as clothes, watches, shoes, accessories, perfumes, electronics and phone cases worth more than EUR 3.8 million.

Why it matters

The internet offers criminals a certain level of anonymity and the possibility of covering their tracks. Its borderless nature facilitates criminal activities that largely take place at an international level. A domain, an IP address or a server may be registered in one country, the bank account for payments in another, while packages are sent from yet another country. This is often being orchestrated by criminals who are not located in any of these jurisdictions.

Organised crime groups frequently use established social media platforms to promote their websites and guide potential consumers to online sales platforms. Websites offering illicit products may also profit from advertisements. Occasionally, even prestigious brands may accidentally publish their ads on such domains, which might cause reputational harm and loss of investment. In certain cases the advertisements placed on commercial platforms (which are infringing intellectual property rights) may expose the consumer to malware or spyware.

Participating countries

Law enforcement agencies from 27 countries participated in the 13th edition of Operation In Our Sites, a Europol-coordinated operation to take down websites offering counterfeit goods or involved in online piracy.

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo**, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States

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