07 September 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

Facebook a counterfeiter’s haven, finds IPO

Counterfeiters see social media as a haven, with Facebook representing the most exposed location for communication about counterfeit goods, according to the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

In a new study, Share and Share Alike: The Challenges from Social Media for Intellectual Property Rights, the IPO found that counterfeiters were actively using open and closed group pages, as well as likes and retweets, to sell infringing products, with much of this communication taking place in closed Facebook groups.

A 3,000-respondent online survey, complemented by an offline survey focused on the proportion of social media-triggered purchases ‘at risk’ of being infringing, revealed that more than 40 percent of communication on closed Facebook groups was suspect, five times more likely than 8.3 percent of communication on open Facebook groups.

A huge 80 percent of the suspect communications in closed groups were generated by 6.2 percent of promoters. Some 88 percent of infringing activity involved complicit consumers.

The IPO says that despite these conclusions, its findings are only a snapshot from the middle of 2015 and “the lack of any other comparable data means these cannot be used to provide a definitive indication of the development of this phenomenon over time and further work is needed to build upon the work completed in this study”.

Actual examples of this infringement proved difficult and, “despite claims from industry and government agencies about the flagrancy with which IP-infringing content is placed on social media, only one, FACT, provided us with actual examples to highlight the characteristics of infringement”.

The IPO’s findings do reinforce claims made by industry and government enforcement agencies that platforms, such as Facebook, “encourage IP infringement”.

“This is particularly flagrant with closed groups. Counterfeiters see social media as a haven and actively use both open and closed group pages, along with ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’, to disseminate their offerings,” the IPO said.

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