The Government will fund 4,500 new copyright police to conduct raids from April. The move comes as the Department of Trade and Industry passes responsibility for copyright enforcement to Trading Standards Officers.
As recommended by December's Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, the DTI has granted Trading Standards Officers new powers under Section 107A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It will also give £5 million to law enforcement agencies to tackle copyright infringement.
"From 6 April, there'll be an additional 4,500 pairs of Trading Standards eyes watching counterfeiters and pirates," said Malcolm Wicks, Trade and Industry Minister. "This will mean more surprise raids at markets and boot sales, more intelligence, more prosecutions and more criminals locked up."
Section 107A of the 1988 Act makes it the duty of local weights and measures authorities to enforce prohibitions against copyright infringement. It gives those officers the power to make test purchases and to enter premises and sieze goods and documents.
The Gowers Review, carried out by ex-Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers for the Treasury last year, suggested the extension of Trading Standards Officers' powers.
"Trading Standards have powers and the duty to prevent the sale of trade mark protected goods. However, where the infringement of rights relates to copyright alone Trading Standards do not have the power to act, and cannot perform searches and seizures," said the Gowers Review. "This means, for example, that where there are sales of counterfeit CDs and DVDs, Trading Standards have only a limited response. This creates an inconsistency in the way that the law treats piracy and counterfeiting."
Recommending changing the 1988 Act, Gowers said that the extra cost of enforcement could be covered by making full use of the Proceeds of Crime Act to pay for extra enforcement.
"Crimelords currently earn fortunes peddling fake goods, bootleg CDs and DVDs through car boot sales and other outlets," said Ron Gainsford, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute. People should realise that the proceeds from the sale of these goods are used to finance a whole range of criminal activities."
Wicks said that the UK's creative industries are said to lose £9 billion a year from copyright infringement, and that the Treasury loses £300 million a year. "IP criminals should know that the UK is not a safe place. Their risk of 10 years' imprisonment and unlimited fines is very real and from this date forward a markedly higher risk," he said.