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The European Commission has launched a new campaign against piracy and counterfeiting in non-EU countries, in a bid to stem estimated losses of between €120bn and €370bn a year. The commission says the main thrust of the campaign will be to ensure rigorous enforcement of existing intellectual property rights (IPR) laws, focusing on the countries where action is most needed.

Customs authorities across the EU seized around 85m counterfeit items in 2002, and more than 50m in the first half of 2003, according to figures published by the EC in November 2003. In 2002, the illegal goods seized had an estimated value of €2bn.

Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade commissioner, argues that piracy is a menace both inside and outside of the EU. He said: "Some of these fakes, like pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs constitute an outright danger to the public, while others undermine the survival of EU’s most innovative sectors, confronted with the misappropriation of their creations. Adopting new legislation on intellectual property is one thing. But devising the right tools to enforce it is another."

No one particular sector is more vulnerable to piracy than any other: the EC's memo on the subject says that "virtually every IP is being violated on a considerable scale", and that "software producers are as likely to be harmed as small makers of a certain type of tea".

The first step of the campaign is to identify which countries are most problematic, by surveying the member states. In 2003, China, Thailand, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, South Korea and Indonesia were identified as the main offenders. The commission says: "Stress will be put on technical cooperation and assistance to help third countries fight counterfeiting but the Commission will not hesitate to trigger all bilateral and multilateral sanction mechanisms against any country involved in systematic violations."

The EC will also work to raise awareness of the dangers associated with counterfeit goods. Although the extent of the risk to the consumer buying a pirated video is likely to be a poor quality version of the product, counterfeit plane parts or fake medicines, for example, have a greater potential for harm. ®

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