WASHINGTON — To mark the official beginning of the online holiday shopping season, known as Cyber Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), the Department of Justice and the FBI Washington Field Office have seized 150 website domain names that were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise.
"For most, the holidays represent a season of good will and giving, but for these criminals, it's the season to lure in unsuspecting holiday shoppers," said ICE Director John Morton. "More and more Americans are doing their holiday shopping online, and they may not realize that purchasing counterfeit goods results in American jobs lost, American business profits stolen and American consumers receiving substandard products. And the ramifications can be even greater because the illicit profits made from these types of illegal ventures often fuel other kinds of organized crime."
"Through this operation we are aggressively targeting those who are selling counterfeit goods for their own personal gain while costing our economy much-needed revenue and jobs," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "Intellectual property crimes harm businesses and consumers, alike, threatening economic opportunity and financial stability, and today we have sent a clear message that the Department will remain ever vigilant in protecting the public's economic welfare and public safety through robust intellectual property enforcement."
This operation is the eighth phase of Operation In Our Sites (IOS v8), a sustained law enforcement initiative to protect consumers by targeting counterfeit and piracy on the Internet, and the second year it has coincided with Cyber Monday. These 150 domain name seizures represent a more than 80 percent increase over the 82 websites that were seized during last year's Cyber Monday-related operation.
The 150 seized domains are in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will now find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.
During this operation, federal law enforcement agents made undercover purchases of a host of products, including professional sports jerseys, golf equipment, DVD sets, footwear, handbags and sunglasses, representing a variety of trademarks from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. In most cases, the goods were shipped directly into the United States from suppliers in other countries. If the trademark holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges.
Since the operation's June 2010 launch, the IPR Center has seized a total of 350 domain names, and the seizure banner has received more than 77 million individual views.
Of the 350 domain names seized, 116 have now been forfeited to the U.S. government. The federal forfeiture process affords individuals who have an interest in the seized domain names a period of time after the "Notice of Seizure" to file a petition with a federal court and additional time after the "Notice of Forfeiture" to contest the forfeiture. If no petitions or claims are filed, the domain names become property of the U.S. government.
Additionally, a public service announcement (PSA), launched in April 2011, appears on each of the 114 forfeited domain names. This video educates the public about the economic impact of trademark counterfeiting and copyright infringement.
Previous website seizures include:
- First phase: 10 domain names
- Second phase: 82 domain names
- Third phase: 10 domain names
- Fourth phase: 18 domain names
- Fifth phase: 5 domain names
- Sixth phase: 17 domain names
- Seventh phase: 58 domain names
The operation was spearheaded by the IPR Center in coordination with the FBI's Washington Field Office, the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and eight U.S. Attorneys' Offices, including the Southern District of Texas, Western District of Texas, District of Minnesota, Eastern District of Michigan, Eastern District of Louisiana, District of Maryland and the District of Colorado.
The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center uses the expertise of its 19 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.
The enforcement actions announced today are one of many efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force). Attorney General Eric Holder created the IP Task Force to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes, protect the health and safety of American consumers, and safeguard the nation's economic security against those who seek to profit illegally from American creativity, innovation and hard work. The IP Task Force seeks to strengthen intellectual property rights protection through heightened criminal and civil enforcement, greater coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement partners, and increased focus on international enforcement efforts, including reinforcing relationships with key foreign partners and U.S. industry leaders. To learn more about the IP Task Force, go to www.justice.gov/dag/iptaskforce/.
*After the distribution of this news release, an additional two websites were seized as part of IOS v8. With these additional seized sites, a total of 152 websites were seized during this operation.