While many people might believe CrimeStoppers to be an official extension of the police in the UK, the truth is a little more subtle.
CrimeStoppers is a charity that operates a service through which members of the public can report crime anonymously, either using a dedicated phone line or via a website. Callers are not required to give their name, meaning that for those concerned about reprisals or becoming involved in a case for other sensitive reasons, it’s the perfect buffer between them and the authorities.
The people at CrimeStoppers deal with all kinds of crime but perhaps a little surprisingly, they’ve just got involved in the set-top box controversy in the UK.
“Advances in technology have allowed us to enjoy on-screen entertainment in more ways than ever before, with ever increasing amounts of exciting and original content,” the CrimeStoppers campaign begins.
“However, some people are avoiding paying for this content by using modified streaming hardware devices, like a set-top box or stick, in conjunction with software such as illegal apps or add-ons, or illegal mobile apps which allow them to watch new movie releases, TV that hasn’t yet aired, and subscription sports channels for free.”
The campaign has been launched in partnership with the Intellectual Property Office and unnamed “industry partners”. Who these companies are isn’t revealed but given the standard messages being portrayed by the likes of ACE, Premier League and Federation Against Copyright Theft lately, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some or all of them were involved.
Those messages are revealed in a series of four video ads, each taking a different approach towards discouraging the public from using devices loaded with pirate software.
The first video clearly targets the consumer, dispelling the myth that watching pirate video isn’t against the law. It is, that’s not in any doubt, but from the constant tone of the video, one could be forgiven that it’s an extremely serious crime rather than something which is likely to be a civil matter, if anything at all.
It also warns people who are configuring and selling pirate devices that they are breaking the law. Again, this is absolutely true but this activity is clearly several magnitudes more serious than simply viewing. The video blurs the boundaries for what appears to be dramatic effect, however.
The second video is all about demonizing the people and groups who may offer set-top boxes to the public.
Instead of portraying the hundreds of “cottage industry” suppliers behind many set-top box sales in the UK, the CrimeStoppers video paints a picture of dark organized crime being the main driver. By buying from these people, the charity warns, criminals are being welcomed in.
“It is illegal. You could also be helping to fund organized crime and bringing it into your community,” the video warns.
The third video takes another approach, warning that set-top boxes have few if any parental controls. This could lead to children being exposed to inappropriate content, the charity warns.
“What are your children watching. Does it worry you?” the video asks.
Of course, the same can be said about the Internet, period. Web browsers don’t filter what content children have access to unless parents take pro-active steps to configure special services or software for the purpose.
There’s always the option to supervise children, of course, but Netflix is probably a safer option for those with a preference to stand off. It’s also considerably more expensive, a fact that won’t have escaped users of these devices.
Finally, video four picks up a theme that’s becoming increasingly common in anti-piracy campaigns – malware and identity theft.
“Why risk having your identity stolen or your bank account or home network hacked. If you access entertainment or sports using dodgy streaming devices or apps, or illegal addons for Kodi, you are increasing the risks,” the ad warns.
Perhaps of most interest is that this entire campaign, which almost certainly has Big Media behind the scenes in advisory and financial capacities, barely mentions the entertainment industries at all.
Indeed, the success of the whole campaign hinges on people worrying about the supposed ill effects of illicit streaming on them personally and then feeling persuaded to inform on suppliers and others involved in the chain.
“Know of someone supplying or promoting these dodgy devices or software? It is illegal. Call us now and help stop crime in your community,” the videos warn.
That CrimeStoppers has taken on this campaign at all is a bit of a head-scratcher, given the bigger crime picture. Struggling with severe budget cuts, police in the UK are already de-prioritizing a number of crimes, leading to something called “screening out”, a process through which victims are given a crime number but no investigation is carried out.
This means that in 2016, 45% of all reported crimes in Greater Manchester weren’t investigated and a staggering 57% of all recorded domestic burglaries weren’t followed up by the police. But it gets worse.
“More than 62pc of criminal damage and arson offenses were not investigated, along with one in three reported shoplifting incidents,” MEN reports.
Given this backdrop, how will police suddenly find the resources to follow up lots of leads from the public and then subsequently prosecute people who sell pirate boxes? Even if they do, will that be at the expense of yet more “screening out” of other public-focused offenses?
No one is saying that selling pirate devices isn’t a crime or at least worthy of being followed up, but is this niche likely to be important to the public when they’re being told that nothing will be done when their homes are emptied by intruders? “NO” says a comment on one of the CrimeStoppers videos on YouTube.
“This crime affects multi-million dollar corporations, I’d rather see tax payers money invested on videos raising awareness of crimes committed against the people rather than the 0.001%,” it concludes.