WASHINGTON — Federal officials have seized 150 Web site domains distributing counterfeit products, including sports jerseys and well-known accessories and footwear brands.
This story first appeared in the November 29, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The number of domains shut down represents more than an 80 percent increase over the 82 sites that were seized during last year’s Cyber Monday-related operations, according to officials.
John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said on a call with reporters that all the Internet sites were engaged in counterfeiting and pirating violations.
“We want to promote a lawful online environment as much as we can and that means going after a small but significant number of Web sites engaged in fraud on consumers and that is exactly what this is,” Morton said.
Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the criminal division of the Department of Justice, said, “Today led to another important step in preventing and deterring counterfeit goods — 150 Web sites seized during this operation collectively sold a wide range of counterfeit products — professional sports equipment, golf equipment, DVD sets, shoes, boots, sunglasses and handbags, and more. Most of these products were advertised as authentic versions of name brand goods and, of course, they were not. Unsuspecting consumers who visit these Web sites were led to believe they were buying the real thing when, of course, they were not.”
The seizures were part of an ongoing federal crackdown on counterfeits and pirated goods, and the eighth phase of an initiative dubbed “Operation in Our Sites,” which involves ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The majority of the domain names sold bogus jerseys from professional sports teams, but authorities said counterfeit designer handbags, sunglasses and shoes were also sold. Among the fashion domain names seized were discount-louisvuitton-handbag.com, louisvuitton-bags-forcheap.com, discount-uggboots-sale.com, handbags-eluxuryin.com, pumasportshs.com and replicaoakleysale.com.
Morton said the operation ran for three months, leading to the execution of seizure warrants over the past few days. While officials could not put a dollar figure on the volume of products sold on the sites, Morton said with online shopping on Cyber Monday estimated at $1.2 billion, “this kind of fraud and intellectual property rights violations are in the very large figures…well, well above millions.”
Authorities said the goods were made predominantly in China and shipped directly to the U.S. Trademark holders helped federal officials identify counterfeit and pirated goods, which led to the issue of seizure orders from federal magistrate judges.
Morton said the majority of the Internet operators are based overseas, which presents challenges for U.S. authorities.
“They are using the Internet as a means of defrauding consumers here without actually having to set up shop on U.S. soil,” Morton said.
But Breuer said officials have had some success in prosecuting individuals. The domain names are now in the custody of the U.S. government and visitors to the sites will find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that “willful” copyright infringement is a federal crime.
Since its launch in June 2010, the IPR Center has seized 350 domain names and the seizure banner for those sites collectively has had 77 million views.