PIPCU is special in that it’s rare for a police force to have a unit dedicated to online infringement. How well funded and resourced is PIPCU, and how receptive are rights owners to your work?
It is rare. The City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) does a lot of engagement outside of the UK with law enforcement, as well as the government and brands. There are very few units like ours, so we are very lucky to have it. We are also very fortunate to get funding from the government. We’ve received £3.7 million over two years, but the funding is due to end in May this year. We’re very hopeful that the funding will be continued, but we are still waiting to have that confirmed.
PIPCU is a relatively small unit of 19 people. We have a mix of police officers and civilian support staff, as well as civilian investigators. Given the breadth and diversity of IP, we have to cover a lot of different areas. We try and do that with disruption activity and arrests. We’re also engaging with the UK IP Office (UKIPO) and its prevention arm to try and get the message out about the harm of IP crime.
As far as rights owners are concerned, we have a very good relationship with them. Members of the industry sit on a working group with government representatives and they examine and review PIPCU’s performance every quarter. A key part of my role is engaging with stakeholders and identifying their needs and issues, as well as seeing if there are any threats, and also how they can work with us.
This is definitely not a one-way street. It is very important that we work with rights owners to tackle problems. We have a lot of meetings, we attend conferences within the IP industry, and finally, we get some funding from rights owners, too. They paid for the analysis on the impact of Operation Creative, for example.
Operation Creative and the Infringing Website List are innovative initiatives. How well have they worked in not only minimising infringement, but eradicating it altogether?
I would see Operation Creative (see box-out) as a pilot so far. I think it has achieved a lot. The figures show quite a significant impact across different sectors. In my view, though, we could do a lot more. It works, but we must increase the scale of it. That’s why we’re working on technology to make it much easier for us, and for the industry, and for us to analyse the impact of Operation Creative. That’s being rolled out in the middle of this year.
The idea is that we will significantly increase its scale. As far as statistics are concerned, it’s difficult to give them at the moment. We had an independent organisation look at our statistics just over a year ago and, on the websites that were analysed, there was a 73 percent drop in key brands advertising on those.
But what I’d like to do is upscale that and have a much wider look at different websites.
There is no doubt that Operation Creative is having an impact and if you speak to our stakeholders, they will agree with that as well. As far as Operation Creative and the Infringing Websites List (see box-out) so far, I’d love to do a lot more. That’s one of my key objectives for 2017.
What about agreements like PIPCU’s memorandum of understanding with the IACC? How do these partnerships help with enforcement actions?
Like a lot of our agreements, the memorandum of understanding with the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition is about sharing information. It’s very difficult to deal with a problem if you don’t have a much better understanding about the extent of it and that is why it’s so important to share intelligence and information. We share new trends and new risks. That’s what it’s all about.
Does PIPCU have any new operations and initiatives in the pipelines that you can share with us?
We’ve got a few. We recently had an Operation Creative day of action. We identified eight organisations that were involved in the placement of ads on websites from the Infringing Websites List. We went to those organisations and highlighted what they were doing, potentially inadvertently. We highlighted the harm and with 100 percent success they all signed up to the Infringing Websites List. In the coming months we will be monitoring these websites to ensure that they are abiding by it. If not, we will go back to them.
If we advise them that what they are doing is criminal, then other activity and actions on our part can be taken. We are looking at it now as a success and looking to extend it to other organisations. That’s a new initiative we are working towards with Operation Creative. We are also starting to look more at criminal assets and finding out where criminal revenue is coming from.
In the coming year we will be working with banks to look into those assets and see if we can freeze accounts and disrupt criminals that way.
We’re also actively engaging with rights holders to see where they can provide help. We’ve entered into schemes where we can receive extra staff from the industry, through funding, as well as expertise and specialist knowledge in a particular field. We’ve got another initiative called Stop It, where we identify relatively low level offences. We contact the offender and let them know that we’re aware of what’s happened and that what they are doing is criminal. On this occasion we give them a warning, but if they continue, we take a different approach. That’s been very successful.
What we’re looking to do in the coming year is promote our work as a unit, and also look for new partnerships within the industry. It can’t just be down to PIPCU, it needs to be a collaborative approach. We would encourage contact from organisations across the IP industry to look for new opportunities and see how we can improve our approach to tackling IP crime. If anyone is looking for any more information, they can look on our website or contact us directly. They’re the experts. It’s such a diverse industry, and it is absolutely essential we work with industry experts.