Counterfeit seizures drop in '05

But European Commission reports rise in downloads

Seizures of counterfeit movies, music and software plummeted by half last year, a European Commission report indicated.

But the EC said Friday that the drop in the number of seizures reflects the rapid changes in modern technology, with a large share of business now shifting from the physical piracy of CDs and DVDs to Internet downloads.

"The key is to be faster than the counterfeiters," European Union Taxation and Customs commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said. "We must quickly identify, and act to deal with, new routes of fraud and constantly changing counterfeit patterns."

Kovacs said that the public had a major role to play in combating counterfeiting. "If there is no demand, there is no supply," he said, warning that anyone who bought a pirated DVD or a fake handbag was funding criminals who also made potentially lethal drugs.

The report reveals that the number of DVDs, CDs, cassettes and software seized last year was 9.7 million, representing 13% of all items seized by EU authorities — 52% of the 2004 figure. In terms of cases registered by EU customs officials, the figure was 1,569, about 6% of the total.

The main sources of seized music, movies and software were China at 51%, followed by Switzerland at 19%, Hong Kong at 12% and Singapore at 7%. In case terms, China again was at the top, representing 22%, followed by Thailand (20%), Indonesia (10%) and Hong Kong (7%).

The EC launched a new action plan on customs in November 2005, and Kovacs said that a number of concrete actions already have been taken as a result of the plan. Customs officials from across the EU have worked together on a number of targeted raids at ports and airports, leading to a large increase in the number of goods uncovered, he said, while an anti-counterfeit task force has been created to improve targeted counterfeiting efforts.

A business-customs working group also has been established to exchange information about trafficking trends, the commissioner said, and efforts are under way across the EU and other countries — notably the U.S. and China — to ensure stronger enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry warned that the drop in seizures was no reason for complacency. "These figures point to the continuing threat of piracy to the creative industries in Europe," IFPI said.

With China representing more than half of pirate seizures, it underlined the importance of the EU maintaining pressure on the region to improve its enforcement of intellectual property rights, the IFPI said.

"IFPI estimates the overall value of the global traffic of illegal CDs at €3.5 billion ($4.5 billion)," it said. "An estimated total of 1.2 billion fake CDs were sold in 2005, meaning that more than one in three CDs sold worldwide is a pirate copy."

The group also warned that Internet piracy continues to be a threat to legitimate online services, with an estimated 20 billion songs illegally swapped or downloaded worldwide.