PIPCU Works to Reduce Intellectual Property Crime

PIPCU Works to Reduce Intellectual Property Crime

February 28, 2023

Brand abusers continue to get more sophisticated, and because of this, it is increasingly essential for businesses to protect their brands from intellectual property crime. These crimes come in many forms, including trademark infringement, counterfeit products, and unauthorized use of a company’s intellectual property. Not only do these crimes negatively impact a brand’s reputation and financial success, they also negatively affect consumers and economies.  

 The City of London Police has a dedicated unit to combat fraud, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). The unit was established in 2013 with the responsibility to investigate and deter serious and organized intellectual property crime in the United Kingdom. We sat down with Detective Sergeant Andrew Masterson, to get his inside take on the state of intellectual property crime and what their division is doing to curb brand abuse. 

Q: Detective Sergeant Andrew Masterson what is your background, and how did you come to work at PIPCU? 

Andrew: I have been in law enforcement for over 15 years in a variety of positions. I moved to PIPCU in 2019 and am the Disruptions and Engagements Lead. In this role, I develop and implement strategies to increase awareness of the dangers of counterfeit goods and copyright infringement sites and develop private and public sector collaboration and law enforcement responses to ensure that we take a holistic approach.  We seek to disrupt websites allowing access to copyright content through the Infringing Website List (IWL) and advertising and payment disruptions. 

Q: Tell us about PIPCU. What is your organization tasked with, and what is your ultimate goal? 

Andrew: The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit is a specialized police team dedicated to protecting physical goods from intellectual property crime and combating online digital piracy. The team works for United Kingdom industries and businesses to protect the UK economy.  

The operationally independent unit was established in 2013 with funding from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and is part of the National Lead Force Operations within the City of London Police, which leads fraud investigations on behalf of the police, nationally. There are two PIPCU units, one in London, and one in the North West. Both work in synergy to investigate and disrupt copyright and trademark crime. PIPCU’s mission is to investigate, disrupt and prevent online enabled intellectual property crime which causes significant harm to the UK economy or the general public in terms of counterfeit physical goods and digital piracy. 

Q: Considering the rise of online counterfeiting during the pandemic, are we still seeing spikes? Why is demand so high for counterfeit goods?  

Andrew: Following the return to ‘normal’ life we did see a drop in both hard goods and online illegal streaming close to pre-pandemic figures. With the looming cost of living crisis, we are seeing large increases and expect this to continue as people find making ends meet harder.  

Q: Can you explain some of the negative effects of supporting the counterfeit industry? Purchasing counterfeit goods, for example.   

Andrew: The counterfeit industry is a poly-crime environment with strong links to modern day slavery, drug dealing and use, human trafficking and financial offences with details being used in other fraud crimes. Along with the impact of the items, makeup and perfume containing dangers chemicals, electrical goods not meeting safety standards and illegal streaming impacting the workers in the industry leading to job loss and reduction in the creation of new material. 

Q: Does your department see a spike in counterfeiting around holidays?  

Andrew: There are links to certain holidays and the sale of goods. Christmas sees a spike in the demand for children’s toys, electronics and clothing. New years and February see a demand for make-up and perfume. We work closely with our partners at the IPO to raise awareness of these and highlight the risk to the public.  

Q: How can brands best leverage intelligence collected online to transfer it into offline actions?  

Andrew: We encourage reporting to the platforms as well as to the IPO, which is our nexus to gather and review intelligence on intellectual property crime.  

Q: How can brands best cooperate with PIPCU and authorities in general to protect their brands? 

Andrew: We encourage all brands to engage with us, seeking information on cases and sharing intelligence. We have a strong public-private partnership ethic and always seek new ways to support and grow this. We encourage them to register through brand protection programs and take steps themselves to protect through the means open to them in the markets. 

Q: What can consumers look out for to make sure they are purchasing authentic items? 

Andrew: Always look at where you are buying items, if from a seller on a social media site, ask questions and get proof of receipts. I would always advise buying from main street retailers. And remember the age old advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is not true.  

Q: Any tips for consumers to protect themselves from online fraud?  

Andrew: I recommend the Take Five website and the helpful hints and tips given there. This program is supported by Amazon and banks to give people the awareness to spot fraud and stop themselves becoming victims. 

Price is not a giveaway these days, so I would suggest researching the seller, paying with a credit card, checking the products, and if unsure seek assistance. 

Q: What do you feel is your biggest win from 2022? 

Andrew: The unit had a number of successes relating to internet protocol television (IPTV) sellers. The biggest win was the change in sentencing guidelines, now the value of loss is measured by retail cost, not the price the criminal sold counterfeit goods at. 

Q: What do you see on the horizon for PIPCU in 2023?  

Andrew: Building on the great work we’ve done on copyright protection with Operation Creative, which is an initiative that sees PIPCU work with partners across the creative and advertizing industries to disrupt websites that provide unauthorized access to copyrighted content, and the IWL. We also plan to expand the protection of the creative industry to be more proactive in this area.  

Q: What are your top 3 tips for brands looking to protect their Intellectual Property online? 


  1. Register using TM (trademark) with the free rand protection services on e-commerce platforms.  
  1. Know your product and brand sales and return processes. 
  1. Seek professional monitoring and share where legal and suitable intelligence to better protect the wider community (if there is a fraud against you, its likely to have been used against others). 

Strengthen your brand against intellectual property crime    

Bad actors use social media, advertising, websites, and branding materials to appear legitimate while evading detection. With increased reliance on digital channels ever since the pandemic hit in 2020, and the flood of new users leveraging those channels, brands also play a significant role in protecting consumers. Legacy enforcement techniques against these scams may slow the fraudster but seldom disable the scam for any sustained period. Use the data in promotional channels to help identify the full scope of brand abuse targeting your loyal customers ahead of big shopping holidays.  

Need to protect your brand across the modern digital universe?  

Learn how we use advanced machine learning to link visible and non-visible digital markers, uncovering entire abuse networks and accelerating the review, triage, and prioritization of brand abuse. 

Need to protect your brand across the modern digital universe?

Learn how we use advanced machine learning to link visible and non-visible digital markers, uncovering entire abuse networks and accelerating the review, triage, and prioritization of brand abuse.

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