U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) have announced the results of "Operation Strike Out." The one-month operation, which commenced at the beginning of the American League and National League Championship Series and continued through the World Series, has resulted in the seizure of 58 commercial websites that sold and distributed counterfeit sports paraphernalia, primarily commemorative apparel and caps. HSI special agents have also seized 5,347 items with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $134,862.
While unrelated, the actions come just a week after six men were arrested on fraud charges federal agents for their alleged involvement in the sale of replica jerseys touted as game worn. Knock-off jerseys manufactured overseas are sometimes purchased by dealers who get them autographed and can then sell them for less than many competitors selling licensed products. In the latest case, most of the customers were simply fans looking for cheaper souvenirs.
"HSI and the IPR Center have made a major dent in these criminals' plans to profit from fan enthusiasm surrounding a very exciting seven-game World Series – both in U.S. cities and in cyberspace," said ICE Director John Morton. "Counterfeits products represent a triple threat by delivering shoddy and sometimes dangerous goods into commerce, by funding organized criminal activities, and by denying Americans good-paying jobs. Homeland Security Investigations and our partners at the IPR Center will continue to work together to keep all types of counterfeit products off our streets."
Many of the goods sold were manufactured overseas. Agents routinely prowl on and off-site locations during high profile events in an effort to stop the sale of non-licensed products during the most active times of the year.
The seizure of the 58 domain names is the seventh phase of "Operation In Our Sites," a sustained law enforcement initiative to protect consumers by targeting counterfeiting and piracy over the Internet. The operation began last June and since that time the IPR Center has seized a total of 200 domain names and redirected those domain names to a seizure banner.
The 58 domain names seized in this phase of "Operation In Our Sites," were all commercial websites engaged in illegally selling and distributing counterfeit sports paraphernalia. During the course of the operation, federal law enforcement agents made undercover purchases of sport jerseys from online retailers suspected of selling counterfeit goods.
Once the materials were confirmed to be counterfeit or otherwise illegal, ICE HSI special agents obtained seizure orders from federal magistrate judges for the domain names of the websites that sold or distributed the items. In most instances, the counterfeit goods were shipped directly into the United States from suppliers in other countries using international express mail. The 58 websites have all been shut down and now show a banner stating that the domain name of that website has been seized by federal authorities. The seizure banner on the seized sites has received nearly 75 million individual views.
The seized counterfeit items infringed on the copyrights or trademarks owned by: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League.
The websites seized during this phase of "Operation In Our Sites" include:
Eighty-six of the 200 domain names seized have now been forfeited to the U.S. government. Through the forfeiture process, individuals who have an interest in the seized domain names are provided a period of time after the "Notice of Seizure" to file a petition with a federal court and additional time after the "Notice of Forfeiture" to contest the forfeiture. If no petitions or claims are filed, the domain names become property of the U.S. government.
In April 2011, the IPR Center launched a public service announcement (PSA) that appears on each of the 86 forfeited domain names. This video has received nearly 200,000 individual views on ICE's YouTube page, educating the public about the economic impact of trademark counterfeiting and copyright infringement. The PSA helps deter future crimes and raises awareness.
ICE HSI special agents operated in multiple teams to identify stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items. These teams – operating in Dallas; Detroit; Milwaukee, Wis.; and St. Louis – have seized 5,347 items of phony World Series-related memorabilia along with other counterfeit Major League Baseball and sports related items to date totaling $134,862. Ball caps, t-shirts, jackets, tickets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated. Three individuals were also arrested on federal and state counterfeiting violations.
The breakdown of seized items include:
- Dallas: 270 items with an MSRP of $6,934
- Detroit: 913 items with an MSRP of $16,120
- Milwaukee: 106 items with an MSRP of $3,180
- St. Louis: 4,058 items with an MSRP of $108,628