November 30, 2010

82 Domains Selling Counterfeit Items Seized

U.S. authorities said on Monday that they have seized 82 websites selling mostly Chinese-made counterfeit goods.

The shutdowns were known as "Operation in Our Sites" and it began in June with the closure of nine websites offering pirated movies.

"The sale of counterfeit US brands on the Internet steals the creative work of others, costs our economy jobs and revenue and can threaten the health and safety of American consumers," John Morton, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, said during a press conference.

"We are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappear when counterfeit goods are trafficked," said Morton, whose agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

He said that most of the websites were based in China and shipped products made in China to the U.S.

The online retailers offered sports equipment, scarves, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel, sunglasses and other items that were illegal copies of the originals.

People who visited the sites on Monday were left with this message: "This site has been seized by ICE -- Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court."

The message informs visitors that copyright infringement is a crime and could leave someone with a penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"By seizing these domain names, we have disrupted the sale of thousands of counterfeit items, while also cutting off funds to those willing to exploit the ingenuity of others for their own personal gain," US Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Morton said some of the sites will "reappear under different domain names" but said "it's going to take quite some time to generate the traffic they had before."

Officials said that U.S. agents purchased items from the sites to determine whether they were counterfeit and obtained seizure orders for domain names from U.S. magistrate judges.

The crackdown coincides with "Cyber Monday," which was coined five years ago for the day many people return to work after Thanksgiving Day and make online purchases for the holiday season.

"As of today -- what is known as 'Cyber Monday' and billed as the busiest online shopping day of the year -- anyone attempting to access one of these websites using its domain name will no longer be able to make a purchase," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that counterfeit goods rack up a total of $200 billion a year in sales.

"We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure. This costs American jobs, hurts our economy, and puts consumers at risk," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in a statement on Monday.


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