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Trading Standards officers become copyright enforcers

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Trading Standards officers are now empowered to enter premises and seize goods and documents they believe to be involved in copyright infringement, now that changes to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act have come into force.

The officers' existing powers of search and seizure are being extended to copyright offences in changes which were recommended in Andrew Gowers' Review of Intellectual Property, published last December.

The Minister for Science and Innovation at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Malcolm Wicks, has put into force a section of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which inserts new sections into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act giving Trading Standards officers new powers.

Those officers will now have a general responsibility of enforcement of copyright infringement, and gives them the right to make test purchases and seize goods and documents. The order came into force on 6th April.

"The UK film, music and game industries are among the most creative and innovative in the world, but peddlers of counterfeits are costing those industries up to £9bn a year," said Wicks. "The taxpayer is also losing out to the tune of £300m. It's a serious offence, whether committed by small-scale hawkers or international crime organisations."

The changes are backed by £5m in what the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) says is new funding for Trading Standards. The UKIPO is the new name for the UK Patent Office in what is the implementation of another Gowers recommendation.

The new money will pay for the existing 4,500 Trading Standards officers to undertake the new duties. Despite Wicks previously saying that "there'll be an additional 4,500 pairs of Trading Standards eyes watching counterfeiters and pirates", the UKIPO has said that what was meant was that existing officers would be newly deployed to copyright duties.

The Government says it hopes the development will have an impact on organised crime, which it claims is a beneficiary of organised piracy. "IP criminals should know that the UK is not a safe place," said Wicks. "Their risk of 10 years' imprisonment and unlimited fines is very real and from this date forward a markedly higher risk."

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