The European Commission has unveiled a package of customs measures to strengthen protection against counterfeiting and piracy among consumer products, including music CDs, DVDs, games and software.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has unveiled a package of customs measures to strengthen protection against counterfeiting and piracy among consumer products, including music CDs, DVDs, games and software.

Among the Commission's new measures unveiled Oct. 11 is the formation of a business-customs group to review the EU's anti-counterfeit legislation. It is also setting up a new customs task forces to improve controls and is devising a new electronic system of secure, real-time transmission of information.

The EC is also looking for agreements with major trade representatives such as airlines, shipping companies and express carriers to create more awareness on the traffic in fakes.

It will be seeking possible amendments to the World Trade Organization's intellectual property agreements so that controls apply not only on imports but also on exports, transit and trans-shipment movements.

The EC's move was welcomed by the music industry's international trade body, the IFPI. "The Commission's new action plan is a multi-pronged approach which, for the first time, is commensurate with the size of the problem," said Brussels-based Frances Moore, IFPI regional director for Europe.

The proposals come after statistics showed 103 million counterfeited and pirated goods seized in 2004 represent a rise of 12%-plus compared with 2003, and 1000% compared with 1998.

The commission said customs authorities reported 2,785 cases involving CDs, including audio musical recordings, DVDs, games and software. This represented 12% of the cases reported in 2004, while the 18.5 million CDs seized accounted for 18% of the total number of items confiscated.

The World Economic Forum has estimated the total cost of counterfeit and piracy at €450 billion ($540 billion) annually.

Said Moore, "For the music industry alone, the pirate market is estimated to be worth $4.6 billion at pirate prices worldwide. Commercial losses to the music industry from piracy are substantially higher."

One of the reasons counterfeiting, including fake CDs, continues to rise is because of the high profits and comparatively low risks, the Commission says. Profits from counterfeit CDs are higher than for an equivalent weight in soft drugs, while law-enforcement penalties are much lower.

The IFPI says that strengthening EU external borders was especially important "as surrounding countries such as Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine take advantage of those countries with weaker border protection to export pirate products into the EU."

The trade organization also says the EC's new Customs Information System should help to dismantle the highly developed distribution networks.

By bringing airlines, shipping companies and express couriers into the fight, the IFPI adds, the Commission would make it more difficult for these pirate networks to operate.

"The growing number of counterfeit seizures at the EU's external borders has convinced me of the need to put in place a strategic plan for short-term action," declares EU taxation and customs commissioner László Kovács. "The international criminal networks behind this activity are quite clever in avoiding customs controls, but by mobilizing our forces we can protect EU citizens against this menace".