The 2020 Review of USTR Notorious Markets List for Counterfeiting and Piracy1 (hereinafter referred to as "NML") released by the Office of United States Trade Representative ("USTR") emphasizes on physical & online markets facilitating substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. The NML attempts to highlight markets, online and physical, involved in counterfeiting and piracy and hence, aims to encourage necessary actions by the government and private sectors against such illegal practices.
The NML has identified 34 physical markets and 39 online markets that are reported to have facilitated substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Moreover, for the first time, it focuses on the role of internet platforms in facilitating the importation of pirated and counterfeit goods into the United States.
E-Commerce and the Role of Internet Platforms in Importation of Counterfeit Goods
The current issue of NML takes in focus and examines the issue pertaining to the effect of the substantial growth of e-commerce platforms in recent years on the substantial growth in the importation of counterfeit and pirated goods into the United States. The current issue seeks to analyze as to how such a growth has resulted in a similar pattern of growth in the United States.
E-commerce platforms has made it extremely difficult to track counterfeits and pirated goods. As per NML, "On e-commerce platforms, consumers are unknowingly exposed to counterfeit and pirated goods in settings and under conditions that make the articles appear genuine. Consumers are often shopping from the safety of their homes through mainstream online markets that provide an aura of authenticity and trust." In addition to this, it is believed that even social media platforms have been exploited by sellers involved in counterfeit and pirated goods.
The USTR Robert Lighthizer said that "intellectual property rights violators shall be held accountable and ensuring full & fair right or opportunity to American creators & innovators to use & make profit from their work is critical for online as well as physical markets". He added, that "the greatest threat of importation of pirated & counterfeit goods, harming the US consumers as well as the content creators, posed by inadequate policies & action by e-commerce companies engaged in selling foreign products to American consumers and not posed by foreign flea markets and dark web sites.
The NML has released multiple examples of players who have been involved in such counterfeit and piracy. A few of the highlighted examples are as follows:
Snapdeal is considered to be one of the biggest e-commerce websites in India, has been featured by the USTR in the NML. According to USTR Notorious Markets List, It continues to be a major concern as Snapdeal finds itself in an enormous pool of counterfeit products. As per the USTR, the volume of counterfeit products on Snapdeal have reportedly increased in the past year, making it a constant concern for the right holders.
The NML also recognizes some platforms like 1337x, FMovies which are major players providing links for torrent files, streaming movies, shows, containing information imperative for downloading other files from the bittorrent distributed peer-to-peer network, for unlicensed movies, TV shows, music, and software. Variants of the site have been subject to blocking orders in several countries including India.
Similarly, the list recognizes UPLOADED for digital piracy. This platform is a popular cyberlocker that operates by numerous redundant domains and provides access to infringing content, including unlicensed digital books, movies, and TV shows. Variants of such site have been blocked in several countries throughout the world including India.
Counterfeit and Piracy in Physical markets
Along with the online market, the issue of counterfeit and piracy continues to expand itself in the physical markets as well. List of a few physical markets involved in such practices are as follows:
- Palika Bazaar, New Delhi
- Heera Panna, Mumbai
- Petaling Street Market, Kuala Lumpur
- Tepito, Mexico City
- Ajman China Mall, Ajman
- Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
The USTR Notorious Markets List further claims that Indian shopping complexes such as Heera Panna in Mumbai sells counterfeit footwear, accessories, watches, apparel and cosmetics. The right holders have warned that counterfeit cosmetics sold at such markets have various health and safety concerns. Kidderpore in Kolkata sells pirated software and media, counterfeit consumer apparel, electronics, cosmetics at cheaper rates. Tank Road in Delhi sells counterfeit products, including footwear & apparel. This market also supplies wholesale counterfeit goods to other markets such as Ajmal Khan Road & Gaffar Market.
It cannot be denied that the internet and online marketplace makes protection of Intellectual Property of goods and services vulnerable and hence augments the incidences of counterfeiting in several ways. A robust mechanism addressing the specific needs of curbing counterfeiting online is the need of the hour.
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