In the UK, can private prosecutions achieve speedy justice?

Portrait of Stuart Biggs

Eurobsit: We frequently hear that law enforcement agencies are too stretched to deal with cases of intellectual property (IP) infringement. Is this issue getting worse?

Stuart Biggs: The police response to IP crime in the UK has improved through the establishment and development of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) within the City of London Police. The CoLP website records that PIPCU exists to investigate and deter serious and organised intellectual property crime and last year saw £719 million pounds (€832 million) of crimes disrupted. The unit also oversaw the takedown of more than 66,000 websites suspected of selling counterfeit goods. Inevitably, however, there are insufficient public resources to investigate and prosecute all IP crime.


E.: What kind of IP infringement cases tend to be fought privately?

S.B: There is a mixed approach in the UK. Some cases are ultimately a private prosecution with some police assistance; others begin as private cases which are then passed over to the police for public prosecution. Thirdly, some cases remain within the private sector. The music and film industries have a long history of private, and we now see similar legal action by television broadcasters and the Premier League, which owns the rights to the most-watched sports league in the world.


E.: Can you give us some high-profile examples of cases that have been fought and won in the UK courts?

S.B: Sky, the satellite TV broadcaster, has previously launched private prosecutions against illegal TV streaming services that provide access to its subscription-based content, and last year a private prosecution brought by Sky resulted in a custodial sentence. Last month, three men were jailed for nearly 17 years collectively, after they illegally streamed English Premier League football matches to pubs over 10 years, the court has found the men made £5 million from their business.

In another recent case pursued by the Motion Picture Association of America, four men received custodial sentences for running an illegal file-sharing website which leaked films online, sometimes before they were released in cinemas.


E.: So many fake products come from China, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. How achievable is it to win lawsuits against infringers in these countries?

S.B: Addressing this question in respect of prosecutions rather than lawsuits more broadly, if distributors/retailers are present in the UK the origin of the products does not present a problem. If goods are mailed from abroad and those involved do not enter the UK, then it is necessary to consider extradition proceedings for which the private prosecutor would require assistance from the state.


E.: The PPA recently held a seminar focusing on IP infringement. Can you share some insights from this event?

S.B: The seminar covered all types of private investigation work carried out with a view to private prosecution, including the investigation of online infringement, and focused on investigation techniques used in the absence of police powers and also on working together with the police, and in particular with PIPCU. Attendees at the seminar were particularly interested in the breadth of online information that is available from social media as well on formal registers.

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