WTAS: Rogue Sites Are Plain No Good

Question: How many stores in your town exclusively sell illegal items, such as counterfeit goods or pirated music or movies?

Most of you would answer, “well, none!” It is likely that at most, all you could think is a stall on that corner which seems to disappear every now and then. The truth is, this type of enterprise—the type that sells ripped off intellectual property—is absolutely not tolerated in the brick-and-mortar world. Why? Because it’s a criminal endeavor, a black market full of shoddy products that are not only harmful to consumers, but also undermine the integrity of well-respected brands. If your local pharmacy sold prescription drugs that were not genuine and possibly laced with heavy metals, rat poisoning, or arsenic, for example, how long would its doors be open? Not long. Why do we allow exactly these types of stores—selling anything from the dangerous, fake pharmaceuticals to counterfeit holiday lights to knock-off sneakers—to exist totally unchecked in the online space?

The harm from these rogue sites is getting a lot of attention. The Better Business Bureau wrote in a letter to congress that rogue sites “often run by criminals who purvey shoddy fakes that can in many cases endanger consumers’ health and safety.”

The National Consumers League, in a letter of its own, says that “rogue websites harm consumers. Sometimes the harm is blatant, such as sites peddling counterfeit pharmaceuticals that can injure or even kill consumers.Other times the harms are subtler, as sites purporting to sell discount clothing, footwear, or other consumer goods pass off low-quality, counterfeit items as legitimate.” NCL goes on to note that “consumers are not the only ones hurt by rogue websites. These sites also harm U.S. workers whose creations… are stolen, and the revenues that could have been used to pay higher wages or create more jobs are instead diverted to enlarge the coffers of criminal enterprises.”

It really can’t be boiled down more simply than this. The widespread theft of intellectual property by rogue sites is harmful to all sectors of the economy and consumers of all sizes, types, and ages. Every day, hundreds if not thousands of online counterfeiters and pirates are stealing American property and distributing illegal goods to unsuspecting consumers. This type of criminal activity would simply not stand if this store were on your street corner. But because rogue sites are often operated entirely outside the United States, beyond the reach of our enforcement authorities, they continue to laugh all the way to the bank.

This is why we urgently need legislation empowering enforcement agencies to cut off foreign rogue sites from the U.S. marketplace – to protect American consumers and preserve American jobs.

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