39 piracy operations and 33 countries profiled in USTR 2023 Notorious Markets report

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60 entities – companies, organizations and a handful of individuals – submitted formal comments to the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) for the latest annual Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy between August and October 2023, which was published at the end of January 2024.

The Notorious Markets report does not represent an “exhaustive” list of cases where infringement occurs, nor is it analysis of intellectual property protection or enforcement practices in countries named there; which is the job of the USTR’s Special 301 Report which is released each April.

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Instead, the 2023 report profiles 39 online markets and 33 countries where substantial trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy is reported.  While the 2023 report has the same number of cases as in 2022, there is some turnover, where some entities are removed or added to the subsequent year’s report.

Those infringing entities which appear over multiple years are identified as having failed to address concerns.  Those which don’t appear in a subsequent year may have closed voluntarily, been closed by an enforcement action or are cooperating with rights owners, law enforcement or government agencies.

Piracy operations

USTR criteria for inclusion was based upon whether the owners, operators, or users of a market or affiliated network of markets engage in or facilitate substantial piracy or counterfeiting to the detriment of U.S. creators and companies.

Those entities who submitted comments characterized piracy operations as ecosystems that exploit a variety of techniquest to reach consumers while reducing the likelihood of detection.  According to the report, these include domain name registries and registrars, reverse proxy and other anonymization services, hosting providers, caching services, advertisers and advertisement placement networks, payment processors, social media platforms, search engines, and network management infrastructure.

Areas of concern include social media, fraudulent advertising, links to fake Web sites, and integration with commerce sites trafficking in counterfeit goods.

Another was providers of “piracy-as-a-service,” which offer services that make it easy for other bad actors to create, operate, and monetize fully functioning piracy operations.

Right holders also made reference to “bulletproof” Internet service providers (ISPs) that facilitate infringing activities by promoting leniency in allowing customers to upload and distribute infringing content.

Notable successes

The 2023 report highlighted several significant accomplishments against cases that appeared in previous Notorious Markets reports, including:

  • Europol supported the Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) in taking down a Netherlands-based illegal IPTV service serving over 1 million users and had engaged in money laundering,
  • Brazil conducted a fifth phase of “Operation 404,” with direct operational support from authorities in the United Kingdom, Peru, and other countries resulted in the takedown of 199 piracy streaming and gaming sites and 63 piracy applications,
  • The shutdown of Bulgaria-based torrent site RARBG, a major hub for the release of new content and perennial offender of copyright laws. At the time of its closure, RARBG received 35 million visits from 3.4 million unique visitors. A new Bulgarian anti-piracy law took effect in August 2023,
  • Argentina acted against 30 illegal streaming sites that broadcast live events and other infringing content,
  • The closure of several operations in Iraq, including Chaloos, Forever IPTV, iStar Media, and Media Star,

Eye on China

The report continues to identify the China-based online markets that include Taobao, WeChat, DHGate, and Pinduoduo, as well as the cloud storage service Baidu Wangpan.  WeChat and Pinduoduo were also identified in the 2022 Notorious Markets report.  Tencent Holdings (the parent company of WeChat) submitted public comments to the Notorious Markets docket as well as multiple private rebuttals, in October 2023

2023 issues focus

Unlike 2022, where piracy was the focus, the issue focus section of the 2023 Notorious Markets List examined the potential health and safety risks posed by counterfeit goods, which are often made of lower-quality materials or manufactured outside of regulatory oversight or product safety controls.  Of particular concern were products made for children, auto parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

2022’s piracy focus was about the adverse impact of online piracy on U.S. workers involved in the production of creative digital works, such as films, books, music, television shows, games, and software. Piracy had also been showcased in 2019 (malware and online piracy), and in 2017 (illicit streaming devices).

About the report

USTR first identified notorious markets in its Special 301 Report in 2006.  Since February 2011, USTR has published annually the Notorious Markets List separately from the Special 301 Report, to increase public awareness and help market operators and governments prioritize intellectual property enforcement efforts that protect U.S. workers and businesses.

The USTR announces the following year’s Notorious Markets report and opens a comment period in August, closes it in October, and releases that year’s at the end of January.  The USTR sometimes contacts submitters with further questions, to which the submitters provide rebuttal statements.  Many of the rebuttal statements are closed to the public.

Intellectual property stake-holders praised the report after it was released

Further reading

USTR Releases 2023 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. Press release. January 30, 2024. Office of the United States Trade Representative, Executive Office of the President

2023 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy. Report. January 31, 2024. Office of the United States Trade Representative, Executive Office of the President

Comments Submitted for the 2023 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy.  Web site with 60 downloadable comments submitted. Office of the US Trade Representative, Docket USTR-2023-0009

Notorious Markets reports from past years.  (Click here)

Why it matters

“The trade in counterfeit and pirated goods harms workers, consumers, and small businesses, and ultimately hurts the U.S. economy,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai.  “This year’s Notorious Markets List is significant because it underscores the potential dangers of counterfeit goods and why robust enforcement to combat trade in these goods is important to growing our economy from the middle out and the bottom up.”

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