Feds grab 163 web sites, snatch $21.6 million in NFL counterfeit gear strike

As they have for the past few years the US Customs department teamed with the National Football League to cut into the lucrative counterfeit sports gear market.

In what the feds called "Operation Team Player," special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and officers from Customs and Border Protection worked with the National Football League (NFL) and other sports leagues along with law enforcement agencies to identify illegal shipments imported into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit trademarked items.

The website seizures during Operation Team Player are the next iteration of "Operation In Our Sites," a long-term law enforcement initiative that targets counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet. Since the launch of Operation In Our Sites in June 2010, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center has seized a total of 2,713 domain names.

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According to ICE, the 163 websites have been seized by law enforcement, and are now in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime. In addition to the domain names seized by law enforcement, the NFL also executed civil seizure orders in 2013 for more than 5,250 websites, ICE stated.

"With three days left before Super Bowl XLVIII, these teams have already seized more than 202,000 items of phony sports memorabilia along with other counterfeit items worth more than $21.6 million. Law enforcement officers have made 50 arrests in relation to Operation Team Player so far, three at the federal level and 47 at the state and local level. Super Bowl XLVIII efforts will continue through Feb. 7," ICE stated.

Operation Team Player began in June and targeted international shipments of counterfeit merchandise as it entered the United States. Authorities identified warehouses, stores, flea markets, online vendors and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear and tickets throughout the country.

Fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated by teams of special agents and officers from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, CBP, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and state and local police departments around the country all in partnership with the NFL and other major sports leagues.

"Unsuspecting consumers are often blindsided when they get inferior, counterfeit products and Americans see real loss of jobs," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center in a statement. "Counterfeit goods cost the global economy an estimated $250 billion each year. More than 1.2 million jobs in New Jersey, 900,000 jobs in Colorado and 1.2 million in the state of Washington depend on IP intensive industries meaning counterfeits have a direct impact on the economy in the home states of both teams and the host of the Super Bowl."

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