Intellectual property (IP) crime is a generic term used by INTERPOL to describe a wide range of counterfeiting and piracy offences.
Trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy are serious Intellectual Property crimes that defraud consumers, threaten health and safety, cost society billions of dollars in lost government revenues, foreign investments or business profits and violate the rights of trademark, patent, and copyright owners. Imitation products pose a significant safety threat to consumers worldwide. Unsuspecting customers put their health, and even life, in jeopardy each time they use counterfeited products, counterfeited alcoholic beverages and food products or travel in automobiles and aircrafts maintained with substandard counterfeit parts.
These IP crimes impact upon virtually every product category. Today, counterfeiters are producing fake foods and beverages, agrochemicals, electronics and electrical supplies, auto parts, construction material and everyday household products along with luxury goods, unauthorized music and DVDs. These products are shipped around the world to developing and developed markets in ever increasing quantities. And, copyright pirates have created multi-million dollar networks to produce, transport and sell their unauthorized copies of books, music, video, games and software.
The limitless scope of the Internet as a medium for supply and sale of illicit product is a growing concern. It has evolved rapidly from an early technological environment where a certain amount of expertise was required, to a user friendly experience in which anyone can establish a web site, participate in an auction, advertise or buy and sell products. It is an important channel of supply for counterfeiters, allowing them to simultaneously supply products at both the wholesale and retail levels whilst at the same time offering relative anonymity.
Individuals and criminal concerns can make it exceptionally difficult for investigators. Typically they do this by hosting their web sites in one jurisdiction, running their business from a second, manufacturing in a third, distributing their illicit wares globally by mail or international carriers and banking the proceeds in yet another. Often these enterprises embark on money laundering exercises to disguise the extent of their income and to hide it from tax authorities.
Transnational organized criminals generate hundreds of billions of dollars annually from the manufacture and distribution of fake products, due in part, to the relatively low level of risk and comparatively high level of profit. There is an ever growing need for facilitation and coordination of international police efforts in combating this criminality, which operates across international borders and has very serious consequences for the public.
The concept of intellectual property is a relatively simple one and broadly means the legal rights which accrue to intellectual activity in the artistic, industrial, literary and scientific fields. These legal rights have evolved in turn with developments in each of these areas and have been enshrined in international law for more than 200 years.