At a sound stage at Walt Disney Studios in Southern California, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton announced to movie industry representatives how the agency is "turning the table on thieves" by combating movie piracy. "Working with industry, we will systematically target websites that offer counterfeit or pirated products. We will seize websites, prosecute the owners and forfeit proceeds."
ICE did just that when the agency called "action" to Operation In Our Sites. Working undercover, investigators targeted websites that made millions by selling the viewing of blockbuster hits, including "Sex and the City 2," "Toy Story 3," "Iron Man 2," "The A-Team" and "Avatar." Authorities shut down seven websites and seized the assets of surrounding businesses that helped fuel their illegal trade, including 15 bank, Paypal and investment and advertising accounts.
The news was music to the ears of representatives from Disney, Paramount, NBC Universal, Fox and the entertainment business at large who feel the pain of having the fruits of their ingenuity stolen. The rise and expansion of the Internet, DVDs, new software and improved digital technology all explain the proliferation of entertainment product piracy.
Counterfeiting and piracy are not victimless crimes; nor are they crimes that rob solely from the rich. The proceeds from secondary markets pay the wages of hard-working men and women in all areas of the industry and are also used to pay for investments, pensions and health care plans.
"The American film and TV business is the bedrock of our economy," said Morton. "Its creativity and imagination has made American entertainment one of our greatest exports over the decades."
ICE has played a starring role in battling intellectual property (IP) theft since its inception in March 2003. The agency leads the multi-agency National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), based in Arlington, Va., and maintains an ongoing dialogue with industry, global think tanks, academia and international partners.
ICE is forging relationships and actively listening to concerns, ideas and suggestions on how we can coordinate efforts to aggressively fight criminals -- those who work alone or as part of an organization -- who sell counterfeit goods, all of which denigrate the national economy, and some of which are downright dangerous to consumers, including adulterated medicines, tainted toothpaste and lead-painted toys.
On the international front, ICE leaders met with Chinese delegates in the U.S. this past February and then in March traveled to Hong Kong where they led a round table discussion with industry leaders concerning crimes that bilk U.S. businesses out of billions of dollars a year and threaten the safety of American consumers.
ICE was an active participant in devising the government's plan to combat counterfeiting and piracy crimes and applauded the administration's Joint Strategic Plan for Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement announced on June 22 by Vice President Joseph Biden and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. The plan was designed to help safeguard "the products of American ingenuity -- from life-saving medicines and vaccines to state of the art technologies -- that fuel our nation's progress and economy," said Secretary Napolitano.
"Last year, ICE launched 1,479 IPR investigations and seized $62 million in counterfeit merchandise," said Morton. "With the continued coordination between industry, our law enforcement partners at the IPR Center and our international partners, coupled with the high level of support from DHS and the administration, we will take an even bigger dent out of the counterfeit and pirated goods that that threaten the U.S. economy and pose a danger to the public's health and well-being."
For more images from Operation In Our Sites, visit the ICE media gallery.