Operation Predator preys on counterfeit DVD sellers

On Saturday 18th February 2006 at 12.45pm, amazed shoppers witnessed the Metropolitan Police, Trading Standards, Home Office Immigration, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and Harrow Council CCTV operators working in partnership to swoop on the numerous street traders that sell counterfeit DVDs in St Anns Road, Harrow.

The operation, named ‘Predator’, was organised in response to complaints received regarding the continual stream of Chinese itinerant traders who persistently target Harrow as an area to sell counterfeit and pornographic DVDs.

In excess of 1,500 counterfeit DVDs, including latest blockbuster hits, were seized which breached registered trade marks of major film companies such as 20th Century Fox, Paramount, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros and Disney.

The Operation resulted in thirteen traders being arrested for offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994. Twelve of them were held in custody while Detectives and Trading Standards Enforcement Officers conducted interviews throughout the night assisted by interpreters.

Twelve traders, nine male and three female, were charged and appeared before Harrow Magistrates Court on Monday 20th February 2006.

All twelve pleaded guilty. Some of the traders had been prosecuted before for similar offences whilst others had had their goods seized by Trading Standards and were subject to ongoing investigations. These traders admitted similar offences in the past which were also taken into consideration by Magistrates when passing their sentences.

The Magistrates stated that these were serious offences and custodial sentences would be appropriate. However, having heard various mitigating circumstances, most of the traders where given 12 – 15 month conditional discharges and ordered to pay between £40 – £70 costs. Two traders who had previous convictions were given 28 day custodial sentences and a third has been remanded in custody to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Bill Bilon, Deputy Director of Trading Standards said, “These street traders are taking trade from legitimate businesses and damaging the economy. The DVDs represent poor value for money as they are often very poor quality as they have been filmed in cinemas with hand held camcorders before being burned onto discs. These street traders are also harming the local economy by taking trade away from bona fide businesses.

Our experience shows that a majority of the pirate DVD sellers are Chinese asylum seekers or illegal immigrants who are forced into this trade by their ‘gang masters’ and the profits that are made are used to fund other illegal activity such as people trafficking. I hope that the custodial sentences imposed will act as a deterrent to those who continually plague Harrow town centre selling counterfeit DVDs”

Raymond Leinster, FACT Director General said: “We are pleased that Brent & Harrow Trading Standards and the Harrow Police have taken this action against those involved in DVD piracy on the streets of London. DVD piracy involves organised criminal networks and is often linked to other crimes such as people smuggling, drugs and other serious criminality. It is a real crime, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.”

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