In most cases the infringement of intellectual property in the UK is dealt with through the Civil Court Justice system with rights holders bringing civil proceedings against alleged infringers relying upon their registered or unregistered intellectual property rights in the jurisdiction. In many cases, however, the infringement of an intellectual property right can also amount to a criminal offence with criminal sanctions available against the infringer(s).
There is, in fact, a specialist national police unit, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), which is dedicated to protecting UK industries that produce legitimate, high quality, physical goods and online and digital content from intellectual property crime. It comprises of a team, consisting of detectives, analysts and researchers and is based within the Economic Crime Directorate of the City of London Police, the National Lead Force for Fraud.
The unit is dedicated to tackling serious and organised intellectual property crime (counterfeit and piracy) affecting physical and digital goods (with the exception of pharmaceutical goods) with a focus on offences committed using an online platform.
Over the past couple of months there have been several high profile convictions of infringers as a result of investigations conducted by PIPCU. The most notable conviction is that by Nottingham Crown Court of Mr Terry O’Reilly, a supplier of illegal IPTV and android-type boxes, who was jailed for four years. A second supplier who worked with O’Reilly, Mr Will O’Leary, pleaded guilty and received a two-year suspended prison sentence.
The IPTV devices suppled by Mr O'Reilly and Mr O'Leary included apps and other add-ons which scanned the internet searching for illegal streams which enabled viewers to watch unauthorised content including those of Premier League football matches.
Earlier this month in another case, a Mr Ashraf Takawy was sentenced at the Old Bailey to 21 months, suspended for two years, plus a four month curfew order following an investigation by PIPCU.
Mr Takawy purchased fake goods from China and set up a website ‘Beautyobsessed.co.uk’ to market fake branded perfumes, cosmetics and hair straighteners. He also marketed the items on internet auction rooms as genuine goods.
Following Mr Takawy's arrest, 41 fake hair straighteners and 219 fake branded perfume bottles were seized by the police with a total expected sale price of around £21,000.
While criminal prosecutions are likely to remain the exception in the UK in cases of intellectual property infringement rather than the rule, it is clear that increased funding of PIPCU coupled with the growth in the digital economy (both legitimate and illegitimate) will make convictions like these more common with infringers risking more than just an order against them imposing an injunction and requiring them to pay damages but also the loss of their liberty in the form of a custodial sentence.
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