Crime and punishment: IP sanctions and deterrence


In the last two decades or so, the notion of categorising certain types of IP infringement as criminal has come into the mainstream. Many countries are now able to impose criminal fines and even jail sentences on the worst offenders.

Some intellectual property infringements are crimes. Everybody thinks so. No one would argue that a counterfeiter who sells poison in place of a legitimate pharmaceutical product is anything other than a criminal. Indeed, that counterfeiter would probably be guilty of several crimes in addition to counterfeiting. He might expect a lengthy jail sentence, and he’d probably receive it. Most people would support this punishment.

But ask the proverbial ‘man in the street’ whether the trader at his local market selling suspiciously cheap branded shirts deserves to go to jail for his efforts, and you might get a different answer. And what about his customers? Are they criminals too? What about the person who runs the market?

Depending on where you are in the world, the seller of counterfeits, the buyer and the person who hosts the illegal sale (physically at least) might all be criminals. And that doesn’t even consider the role of the person who made the fake goods in the first place.

IP crimes, anti-counterfeiting