UK Authorities Launch Facebook Piracy Crackdown

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Trading standards officers and police are carrying out a crackdown across England, Wales and Northern Ireland against those who offer pirate and counterfeit products via Facebook. Interestingly, 'pirate' Android boxes have been targeted again, not only for streaming content illegally, but also for having "dangerous" chargers.

Due to their prevalence among citizens of the UK, Facebook accounts have grown out to become much more than just a place to manage social lives. For some they’re providing a great way to distribute infringing content and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the authorities.

Over the past several weeks enforcement officers have raided a dozen separate locations and are still involved in 22 investigations as part of a Facebook crackdown across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Operated by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team alongside the National Markets Group (with members the BPI, Federation against Copyright Theft and the Alliance for Intellectual Property Theft) Operation Jasper is manned by officers from police and government agencies and is reportedly the largest operation of its type. It is targeted at “criminals” who exploit social media to commit “copyright theft” and sell “dangerous and counterfeit” goods.

In the past several weeks officers say they have raided 12 addresses although at this stage there are no reports of any arrests. Facebook itself has also been hit, with 4,300 listings and 20 profiles removed. Authorities say they have sent more than 200 warning letters and 24 cease and desist letters to those they accuse of infringement offenses carried out on Facebook.

In addition to the usual counterfeit items such as t-shirts, tablets and mobile phones, ‘pirate’ Android ‘streaming’ boxes were targeted yet again. Earlier this month police and trading standards raided addresses in the north of England in search of the movie and TV show streaming devices, making at least one arrest in the process.

This time around, however, officers appear to have another string to their enforcement bow. While noting that the Android boxes in question do indeed allow the illegal streaming of movies and sports channels, authorities say they also being targeted because they are supplied with ‘unsafe’ mains chargers.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said that his officers have taken important action, especially against those who believe they can operate anonymously online.

“Operation Jasper has struck an important psychological blow against criminals who believe they can operate with impunity on social media platforms without getting caught,” Harris said.

“It shows we can track them down, enter their homes, seize their goods and computers and arrest and prosecute them, even if they are operating anonymously online. I commend the National Trading Standards e-Crime team and all other parties involved in this operation.”

Nick Boles, Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that consumers need to be wary of consuming pirate content.

“Counterfeiting and piracy of trademarked and copyrighted materials harms legitimate businesses, threatens jobs and pose a real danger to consumers. That’s why we are taking strong action to stop these criminals through the Government’s funding of the National Trading Standards E-Crime Team,” Boles said.

According to the government’s latest IP Crime Report, social media has become the “channel of choice” for online ‘pirate’ activity. In the past several months several of the leading torrent sites have had issues with their Facebook accounts. The Pirate Bay’s account was shuttered in December 2014 and in May and June 2015, ExtraTorrent and RARBG had their accounts suspended on copyright infringement grounds.

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