Speech

Baroness Neville-Rolfe's speech at the ACG IP conference

Baroness Neville-Rolfe speaks on enforcement and IP crime at the ACG's annual intellectual property conference.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG

Good morning everyone. I’m very pleased to be here in the flesh today. Last year my appearance was by video alone, but for a conference on counterfeiting it only seems right that this year you should see the original, rather than a reproduction.

According to estimates from the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), as much as 5% of goods in European markets are copies. That represents millions of pounds diverted to criminal elements, a drop in overall quality of goods, and a drop in consumer confidence.

This government won’t stand by. We are committed to building an economy that works for all, an economy based on fair play under a fair set of rules. That means an economy on the side of businesses, workers and consumers. That’s why we have made IP crime a priority. We are committed to protecting rights holders, legitimate retailers and customers up and down the country, and to stopping those who exploit others by breaking the law.

With these goals in mind the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has set out the government’s strategy for the next four years, publishing “IP Enforcement 2020”, highlighting our goals, and the ways government and business can work together to achieve them.

We have three core ambitions against which we will measure our success. We want to:

  • empower UK companies of all sizes to feel more confident in operating internationally through better IP protection
  • educate consumers and users in the benefits of respecting IP rights, and the repercussions of law breaking; and
  • ensure that rights-owners have easy access to effective dispute resolution

The government support the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG), and look to you to bring forward initiatives to help us fight IP crime. Earlier this year the ACG produced its 2016 manifesto.

The first thing the ACG asked for was support in the fight against fakes, calling on the government to give attention to the growing international trade in counterfeit goods.

The IPO is already developing ways to measure the damage IP crime does so that we can provide hard evidence and focus resources.

Next, we were urged to take a firmer stance on IP enforcement by developing a national body capable of working across local authorities and other agencies to create a pool of expertise and intelligence, so that we can fight IP crime effectively wherever it occurs.

This is an interesting proposal and I look forward to hearing more about this as you consult the wider IP enforcement to further develop this idea.

Lastly, there was a desire to make improved IP enforcement a serious priority across government, and to make our approaches smarter. We are bringing in business to be part of the solution, working together to raise awareness of the dangers and costs of the trade in counterfeit goods.

IP crime hurts consumers and businesses alike so I am fully supportive of the important work of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group helping businesses large and small tackle this issue.

IP criminals across the country are already finding out how effective our collective efforts can be, and I think it’s worth giving you an update on what we’ve already done in the last few months.

The first challenge is the amount of illegal goods and content that can be found online.

In keeping with our quick-access, consumer-led world, ease of access is often cited by consumers as a reason for illegal downloads.

This is why modern streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, have already helped to put a dent in the pirates’ profits. These services make it far easier for consumers to legally access content whilst guaranteeing security and quality, something which illegal downloads could never do.

Counterfeit goods are widely available to order, and there are a vast number of retailing sites which support this trade. We recognise this threat and are acting to stop it. Last year alone Nominet removed over 3,500 websites that were linked to criminal IP activity.

Many of these sites have received a boost from genuine companies paying for advertising space, adding funds to criminal accounts while giving their sites a gloss of legitimacy.

The Police IP Crime Unit (PIPCU) are working to combat this, and in 2013 launched the Infringing Website List, an online register of copyright infringing sites for companies to avoid. Since then, we have seen a 73% drop in advertising on these sites by the UK’s top ad spending companies, further reducing criminals’ incomes and influence, which in turn benefits legitimate companies of all sizes.

This close working relationship with search engines and advertisers also includes social media providers. Together we are making progress in undermining and removing websites and profiles that distribute infringing materials.

Central to this has been Operation Jasper, a nationwide multi-agency operation built on the work of ACG members. Jasper’s objective is to remove counterfeit goods from social media sites. With the help of Facebook and Twitter we have now seen around 100 investigations launched, 59 separate warrants issued, and more than 8000 illegal listings removed from Facebook, as well as thousands of seizures of counterfeit goods. I’m sure we can expect similar achievement with Jasper 4, which I know you are launching soon.

Most stakeholders believe that the UK already has an effective system in place and are willing to support it. Just this week, the Digital Economy Bill reached the committee stage in the Commons. When passed it will increase the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement from two years to ten years.

I know many of you will have questions about the future of our IP after we leave the EU. Whilst negotiations are on-going I can’t answer these questions. But I know the importance of ensuring that IP rights are considered in Brexit and in any future trade agreements, and that IP is given appropriate recognition. We also remain a committed member of EUROPOL, and through vigilance and enforcement we will continue to do all we can to ensure that European markets are protected from criminal interference.

These problems reach beyond Europe. A 2014 UK Trade and Investment survey found that one in four UK businesses were uncomfortable with the idea of entering overseas markets because of concerns about IP theft.   We know too that when criminals do access our IP they can cripple start-ups, damage small businesses and steal new ideas away from legitimate owners and markets. But in the digital age, these criminals can be anywhere in the world.

Only an international approach can put an end to IP infringement. As the ACG Manifesto highlights, almost 85% of counterfeit goods seized around the globe originate from China and Hong Kong. Add in Singapore, Turkey and India and you account for more than 90%.

Project Poise, surprisingly named, exists to address this. It gives us a way to reach beyond our borders to disrupt the supply chain before products even reach us. The framework it provides can be taken up by other organisations, such as the UN, EUROPOL and INTERPOL.

Our attachés in India, China, South East Asia and Brazil, who have so far provided support to over 6500 of our international businesses, and dedicated police IP crime unit which has been set up in India complements this. And there are plans for a PIPCU-style approach to advertising for illegal websites in Hong Kong. International trade is part of British heritage, and we cannot let our ambitions be limited. That’s why we are engaging with our partners around the world, through the attachés, the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and the Department for International Trade, British Business Councils and the many local institutions.

We have made it clear that IP crime leads to losses in tax and other receipts, supports organised crimes like people trafficking or drug trafficking, and it can also pose a physical threat to consumers with dangerous or faulty products made by the counterfeiters.

Knowledge of members of the public is our main supporters in this fight, and our long-term goal must be to change public attitudes to IP crime, so that its true repercussions are recognised by all consumers. Too often UK consumers see IP crime as harmless, and decide that convenience trumps legality. So we need better coordination between government, industry and consumer bodies, and brands themselves. For example, sites like “Find any film” and “Get it Right From a Genuine Site” aggregate sources of legal content so that users can find everything they want quickly and easily.

The more we understand about the motivations, scope and scale of IP infringement, the more we can do to prevent it. Such information will feed into future strategy, and our successes will be evaluated on an annual scoreboard, combining the available data on IP infringement, the latest information on economic impact and the outcomes of enforcement activity.

We are now developing a case database with the Ministry of Justice, and working with the Home Office to create subcategories within fraud, giving us specific data on Trademark, Design and Copyright infringements.

And we will continue to promote Citizens Advice, Action Fraud and Crimestoppers so that consumers and victims have a place turn when a crime takes place.

We are committed to sharing our knowledge with our hosts, the ACG. The ACG has rightly highlighted growing trends we need to tackle together, such as the strain on resources brands are facing because of counterfeiters, and the growing influence of organised crime groups.

Of course, we are all being asked to do more with less. That’s why the ACG’s achievements are impressive:

  • £4 million of counterfeit sports apparel seized in more than 25 raids
  • collaborations across the UK with Trading Standards, Police and Border Forces; and
  • awareness roadshows four times a year

Then there’s the progress in one of the UK’s counterfeiting hubs: Cheetham Hill in Manchester, the counterfeit capital of Europe. ACG surveillance has so far identified a 113% increase in infringing activity there, with nearly 70 shops selling counterfeit goods.

This has led to traders being evicted, and we are targeting and prosecuting 28 of the worst offenders. I have asked the IPO to publish a report, and am pleased that we are now seeing more coordinated action with more to come.

The partnership between Government, law enforcement, and business has had a major impact on IP crime. Together we will continue to track down and dismantle criminal organisations and networks that profit illegally from the hard work of others.

But there is still much to do. The government is committed to tackling IP crime wherever it exists, whether in Manchester or Macau, whether online or on the street.

Counterfeiting is not new, but it is evolving. Enforcement 2020 sets out our plans to stay ahead, with greater public understanding, better intelligence and tougher enforcement.

The ACG makes a huge contribution. It is an honour to work with you, and a pleasure to be here today.

Thank you.

Published 25 October 2016