Unknown facts – evidence, policy and enforcement

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Over the past five years the drive for a more evidence-based policy has increased and the determination of governments to obtain more robust facts and figures shows no sign of subsiding.

Over the past five years the drive for a more evidence-based policy has increased and the determination of governments to obtain more robust facts and figures shows no sign of subsiding.

An evidence-based policy approach focuses on the use of realistic analysis to develop rational rather than conceptual and political policy, and has been building in the United Kingdom since the late 1990s. However, it has now become the mantra of many progressive governments and policy makers around the world, including those at the European Commission. As a result, those in business and civil society are constantly being asked for extensive and developed information about what is happening on the ground and what they can learn from it.

The weight of providing more systematic and robust information and clear evidence from on-the-ground practices has grown significantly for organisations such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG), which is continually engaged in helping members to combat product counterfeiting.

We have had some help in the past. In 2009 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) carried out an influential and persuasive study (www.oecd.org/sti/ind/oecdprojectoncounterfeitingandpiracy.htm) which reported that the global trade in fake goods was worth up to $250 billion. This report became a benchmark as the principal independent analysis of the global impact and threat that counterfeiting presents across the world.

Moreover, the following institutions have all produced evidence and reports which acknowledge the links between counterfeiting and organised crime and, in turn, the massive profits from fake products which are being channelled into areas such as the trafficking of drugs and human beings and related financial crimes, such as money laundering and corruption:

All of these reports and studies have had a real bearing on policy in the past, particularly the OECD study. Although they have naturally had less effect over the years, counterfeiting is now a clearly recognised global issue. The OECD’s prediction that the situation was likely to worsen as counterfeiters increasingly used the Internet to peddle their fakes was undoubtedly correct.

This insight has been continually backed up by annual statistics reported by the European Commission. The commission’s latest customs report, produced in 2014 (see http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/resources/documents/customs/customs_controls/counterfeit_piracy/statistics/2014_ipr_statistics_en.pdf), highlights the fact that over 35 million fakes were detained at EU borders, many of which were small parcels delivered through express and postal traffic as a result of internet orders. Moreover, over 83% of all counterfeits seized by customs authorities originated in China and Hong Kong.

In many ways we have been fortunate that the reports of prestigious enforcement institutions, border statistics and the OECD’s work have been instrumental in keeping counterfeiting on the policy map. However, the question is whether we are doing enough ourselves to maintain attention and compete with other criminal matters which vie for increasingly stretched enforcement resources and enforcement time.

The International Chamber of Commerce, Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) and other industry associations have done some sterling work in this area and should be congratulated for having worked hard to provide compelling reviews, analysis and studies – and not only from the business perspective. However, these reports have not always been well received by various civil society groups, which have rebuffed the results, based on a simple ‘You are big business, you would say that’ argument. Unfortunately, this uncomplicated denial has often led to conflict and even found sympathy in political arenas such as the European Parliament.

So despite all the information currently available, there are still those who disbelieve or deny the extent of counterfeiting and the damage it does.

There are a number of reasons behind our overall failure to fully convince all politicians, government policy makers, enforcement decision takers and many in civil society. Some of the arguments are purely political, but others have some credibility. For example, it has been claimed that previous studies by business and industry groups have been self-serving – an attempt to get public authorities and money to protect private business rights. There is no evidence of this, but the notion exists.

More accurately, perhaps, it has often been maintained that there has been no agreed methodology for collecting and analysing data and therefore no aggregated figures can be put together to show the overall scope and scale of the issue. Other observers consider that past studies have simply been snapshots in time, which have been commissioned by different industries and employed different approaches.

It has also been claimed that figures are incorrect because some sectors of industry have been hesitant to disclose information on the true scope of the problem, as they fear damaging both consumer confidence and the reputation of their brands. Consequently, some have posited that extrapolations have been used which have been unclear and occasionally wide of the mark.

All of these arguments add up and, as a result, it has often been difficult to influence and gain the support of policy makers and decision takers, particularly in countries with weak enforcement regimes.

So what are we doing and what do we need to do to ensure counterfeiting is a priority on government agendas?

Over the past year the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights has entered the fray and has published a series of reports (see https://oami.europa.eu/ohimportal/en/web/observatory/observatory-publications) aimed at improving understanding of the importance of intellectual property in society and the consequences of IP infringements. 

The reports cover a range of areas and issues, from a first Situation Report on Counterfeiting in the European Union to a number of economic cost studies about IP infringements in vulnerable sectors. These have so far covered the clothing, footwear and accessories sector, the cosmetics and personal care sector, the sporting goods sector and, more recently, the manufacture of counterfeit jewellery, watches, handbags and luggage. More are to come.

Why is the observatory doing this and how can these reports help? Well, we clearly need an independent view – if only to counter the argument that reports are being written by those who would benefit most. In addition, as these reports are produced by a public body, they have more credence and influence with government and enforcement. The methodology being used by the observatory and its partners is also consistent, which means that it can aggregate statistics and provide more reliable forecasts. Moreover, the resources which the observatory has at its disposal mean that figures can be continually revisited and updated. As a result, we are in a better position to attract and focus our enforcement resources more effectively.

But what can we do to help? Filling the gap in evidence and intelligence sharing between business, government and enforcement is vital in helping to facilitate more effective cooperation and action. The ACG is already fostering its relationship with the observatory to ensure that we provide the right contacts and get the right information to the team to help its work.

The observatory reports are clearly gaining more and more international attention as the combination of data and strategic intelligence becomes vital fuel for enforcement agencies with stretched resources to better target specific aspects of production, distribution and fakes which cause most harm. The ACG intends to position itself at the centre of this work.

How will we do this? Our intelligence coordinator already provides a key link between our members and local and national enforcement authorities. By collating, analysing and developing tactical information and producing specific intelligence packs, the ACG intelligence coordinator helps to drive more focused individual and joint operations throughout the United Kingdom.

As a result, we now have concrete examples of how joint intelligence-led approaches can work to achieve better and more successful practices on the ground. Operation WATCH, which launched in 2013, involved many members of the ACG collecting intelligence on the scope and scale of product counterfeiting on social media sites. The work led to the identification of over 30,000 individual listings on Facebook alone and the takedown of hundreds of traders selling counterfeit goods. Phase 2 of Operation WATCH took place in 2014 and allowed us to identify a list of top 20 traders, offering several thousand counterfeit articles for sale. The items ranged from potentially dangerous electrical goods to luxury products, clothing, footwear, perfume and fitness DVDs. In the end, over 3,000 individual listings and images were removed and 60% of the traders targeted had their entire Facebook profiles closed down.

These are clear examples of how the use of combined and refined information can drive more effective operational enforcement. However, while more meticulous data and analysis is imperative in disrupting IP crime, successful and sustainable enforcement is not solely about high-volume seizures and arrests. By combining our information and on-the-ground experiences and practices, we can also produce more strategic pictures, which can be used by policy makers in government and decision takers in enforcement agencies to better target specific aspects of the production, distribution and sale of counterfeits which cause most harm.

In addition, the resulting forensic information can be designed and used in other ways. For example, armed with more tangible and timely information, authorities can make better use of media and publicity to generate greater awareness and produce more useful harm-reduction models and approaches.

Moreover, the information we gather allows the ACG to more effectively focus our other services, such as our regular training workshops and guides for enforcers and brand protection managers. We can also provide our members and partner associations with tailored briefings and research reports on counterfeiting issues in specific sectors.

To sum up, the ACG exists to represent the voice of business in shaping an effective deterrent to counterfeiting through our continued participation and collaborations and by helping to empower multi-agency partnerships. However, we recognise that the policy and strategy environment has changed considerably over the last few years, and that we need to be in a position to help governments to better select their policy options by using our members and services to provide the right information that allows them to assess the real impacts.

Quite simply, this means providing policy makers and enforcers with clearer lines of argument and evidence.

To achieve our aims, we intend to continually provide compelling information, reliable statistics and direct evidence from our members and from the direct experience we gain from on-the-ground operations. The ACG intends to be at the forefront of efforts to improve policy and strategy in relation to counterfeiting, using our research and intelligence capacities to identify and provide local and regional perspectives and international comparisons.

The ACG’s view is that properly arming governments, enforcement and institutional bodies – such as the Intellectual Property Office Intelligence Hub, police, trading standards authorities, Customs, the Government Agency Intelligence Network, the Home Office, the European Commission, Europol and the EU Observatory – is necessary and essential in connecting more effectively with consumers and persuading dissenters that counterfeiting is undermining our whole social and economic fabric; depriving our creators, inventors, artists and designers of their just rewards; destroying jobs; denying much-needed tax revenue to fund essential public services, including health and education; and threatening the health and safety of consumers. 

Anti-Counterfeiting Group

PO Box 578

High Wycombe


HP11 1YD

United Kingdom

Tel +44 1494 449165

Fax +44 1494 465052

Web www.a-cg.org

Alison Statham
Director of operations
[email protected]


Ms Statham organises anti-counterfeiting events across the United Kingdom and Ireland. These not only reach a wide variety of anti-counterfeiting personnel – including police, trading standards, border forces and customs officers, as well as brand protection specialists from the manufacturing and legal professions – but also provide a collaborative platform to help members of the IP community to support each other in the global fight against counterfeiting.

Ms Statham comes from a trade association background and previously held a similar role with the Toy Retailers Association.

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