10 years of fighting intellectual property crime: specialist police unit reflects on a decade of bringing criminals to justice
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The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) at City of London Police is celebrating 10 years since its launch.
In the last financial year, PIPCU conducted 116 arrests and suspect interviews under caution, and executed 52 search warrants. Officers from the unit secured 24 criminal convictions and 70 judicial outcomes, and conducted 13 disruptions against organised criminal groups.
Criminal assets worth £460,000 were seized or confiscated during this period. Around 11,000 illegal website domains were suspended and 1,600 cease and desist notices served. Alongside this, officers presented at 79 engagement and awareness events on intellectual property crime.
Assistant Commissioner Pete O’Doherty, from the City of London Police, said:
“Throughout my career at City of London Police, I have watched PIPCU grow into the well-established unit it is today.
“These figures are testament to all of the hard work over the past decade by PIPCU, in partnership with law enforcement and the industry, which has contributed to bringing serious consequences to those who choose to engage in intellectual property crime."
T/Detective Superintendent Gary Robinson, head of funded units at the City of London Police, said:
“Over the past decade, PIPCU has worked with a wide range of national and international partners from public authorities and private industry to build a comprehensive policing response to the threat of intellectual property crime.
“The United Kingdom’s response to tackling intellectual property crime is widely regarded as one of the most innovative in the world, and PIPCU has been at the forefront of this.
“From seizing millions of pounds of counterfeit goods at a time, to disrupting the funding of illegal streaming websites, to ensuring that offenders don’t profit from criminality, the unit has consistently sent out a message that this type of crime will not be tolerated.”
Adam Williams, the Intellectual Property Office’s Chief Executive, said:
“Intellectual property crime such as counterfeiting and piracy represents a major threat to the UK economy. It contributes to tens of thousands of job losses each year, diverting funds away from legitimate traders and into the hands of criminals. This helps to sustain criminal lifestyles, supports serious and organised crime networks, and causes real harms to the consumers and communities these criminals target.
“Collaboration with our partners in law enforcement, industry and across government is at the core of our approach to disrupting this type of crime, and PIPCU has played a central role since 2013. PIPCU continues to achieve significant successes that help protect the public, such as in the recent operation to disrupt the supply of counterfeits during the FIFA World Cup. Through their ongoing action to bring those involved to justice and help raise awareness of the damage intellectual property crime causes, PIPCU are continuing to make life significantly harder for criminals.”
Back in 2013, the City of London Police in its role as the national lead force for fraud and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) responded to growing concerns around intellectual property crime, which was estimated to have cost £8.6 billion in losses to copyright holders alone in the UK in 2013, in addition to huge costs to the economy at large.
Counterfeiting had long been a problem in the world of physical goods, but technological advances meant that online intellectual property crime was becoming a growing threat to businesses and consumers.
A new operationally independent unit, dedicated to tackling serious and organised intellectual property crime, was funded by the IPO and run by the City of London Police.
Here is a look back on some of the unit’s most notable cases over the last 10 years.
One of the internet’s biggest illegal uploaders of wrestling and fighting videos arrested A man believed to be one of the internet’s biggest illegal uploaders of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) content was arrested by PIPCU officers in March 2015. The man was responsible for uploading around 3,000 illegal videos, thought to have caused millions of pounds in losses to the industry.
Gang sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for Expendables 3 torrent Four men were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court to a total of 11 and a half years in March 2019 for setting up an illegal torrent website offering high profile films. An investigation by PIPCU found that the men had worked together in an organised group called MiLLENiUM Release Group to obtain illegal copies of high profile films and upload them to a purpose-built torrent website for thousands of users.
Man jailed for £150,000 counterfeit pop merchandise scam A man who made over £150,000 by selling fake Justin Bieber and One Direction merchandise was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment in June 2017. Officers from PIPCU executed search warrants at two addresses in London and found unbranded clothing, stencil templates, and machinery to transfer logos to unbranded clothing.
15 people arrested after £7.5 million of counterfeit goods seized in Manchester Around £7.5 million worth of counterfeit clothing, shoes and perfume were seized and 15 people arrested during raids in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, in March 2020. The raids were executed as part of a large-scale operation to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods in the area. Over 100 people supported the raids and officers worked throughout the night to clear the unit.
Fast & Furious 7 film thief jailed A man was jailed for 27 months in March 2020 after he made illegal copies of high-profile films available online before their cinema release. An investigation by PIPCU showed that Malik Luqman Farooq, 31, of Shalimar Street, Halifax, stole the films, including Fast & Furious 7, from a post-production company. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimated that, had Farooq leaked Fast & Furious 7 online, he would have caused an estimated potential loss of $287,663,623.
25,000 counterfeit medical face masks seized in Scotland Around 25,000 counterfeit face masks were seized by PIPCU officers in April 2021 after they were imported into the UK from Hong Kong. The masks were intended to be sold to the public online. PIPCU officers believed that they would have been advertised as medical grade, meaning that the public would have been at risk of buying substandard masks under the belief that they would help protect them.
Man jailed for pretending to administer Covid-19 vaccine A man was jailed for three-and-a-half years in August 2021 after he pretended to administer a fake Covid-19 vaccine to an elderly lady and defrauded her out of £140. David Chambers, 36, of Hook Rise North, Surbiton, visited the victim’s address, and stated he was from the NHS and there to administer the Covid-19 vaccine. He was arrested by officers from PIPCU, the Metropolitan Police Service and Surrey Police following a public appeal after he went on the run.
Adrian Kwiatkowski, 23, of Hampton Road, Ipswich, obtained unreleased and unfinished material from the accounts, and sold it on the dark web in exchange for cryptocurrency. An investigation by PIPCU and partners revealed that he made £131,000.
Kwiatkowski was arrested by PIPCU officers in 2019. They seized £51,975 held in a bank account owned by Kwiatkowski and 2.64 Bitcoin, worth £49,528. He was given three months to pay the amounts at Ipswich Crown Court in May 2023, making it the first confiscation order of cryptocurrency completed by the City of London Police.