A recent press release by Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) has highlighted the increasing threat arising from the sale of counterfeit goods on the Darknet. This article looks at “the Darknet” and considers some of the key points from the Europol publication (which can be found here).

What is the Darknet?

The starting point is that the Internet is huge. Most of us will be familiar with the Surface Web, which consists of content which has been indexed and can be found using a standard Internet search engine such as Google. However, underneath the Surface Web is the ‘Deep Web’. The Deep Web contains content which you typically cannot find using search engines and it is estimated to be considerably larger in size.

The Darknet compromises a small part of the Deep Web. It consists of networks which are intentionally hidden and only accessibly through use of specific software and tools. Not all use of the Darknet is illegal (it was initially legitimately utilised by the US military). However, those using the Darknet are able to do so on an anonymous basis and this makes it a potential hotbed for sales of counterfeit goods and other criminal activity.

Key points made by Europol

  • The Darknet contains marketplaces just like the Surface Web. Trade on these marketplaces is currently limited, but there is significant potential for growth.
  • In particular, Darknet markets are becoming more user friendly and are starting to resemble markets which are available on the Surface Web. Further, the software needed to access these markets can be easy to locate.
  • A broad range of counterfeit goods have been identified on Darknet markets and, as with the Surface Web, there is potential for high profits to be made.
  • Infringers tend to offer goods for sale on a number of different Darknet markets. For this reason, taking action in relation to an isolated market may not be an effective means to end infringement altogether.
  • Earlier this year, AlphaBay and Hansa (two of the most popular Darknet markets) were successfully taken down in an international operation by the FBI, the DEA and the Dutch National Police, with the support of Europol. These marketplaces contained thousands of listings for illegal drugs, but a significant number of counterfeit goods were also listed.
  • After take downs, criminals are commonly shifting their activities to existing alternative or new Darknet markets – this makes it difficult to put a complete stop to an infringer’s activities.


The fact that intellectual property infringement is taking place on the Darknet may suggest that current monitoring and takedown action being taken by right holders on the Surface Web is having the desired effect. However, there is no denying that the Darknet poses some unique challenges to right holders. In particular, the anonymity available to users makes it very difficult to identify those individuals behind the infringements.

The action taken against AlphaBay and Hansa is encouraging; but this action was supported by large government bodies and the intelligence available these entities is unlikely to be commonly possessed. As Europol has highlighted there is significant potential for growth of intellectual property crime on the Darknet and right holders need to be aware of this.