There is no doubt that over the past 20 years, online piracy has transformed in many ways. While still not completely dead, the original “sharing is caring” ethos is now overshadowed by what is a largely commercial web of for-profit piracy services.
In most jurisdictions, the operators of commercial piracy services commit crimes ranging from criminal copyright infringement to money laundering and fraud. So, by definition, pirate sites are run by criminals. Furthermore, if they do business systematically in even a small team, they can be officially labeled an Organized Crime Group (OCG).
This status elevation of copyright infringers is useful for rightsholders. Instead of expensive and unpredictable civil legal action, law enforcement can be encouraged to engage in criminal prosecutions with the prospect of prison sentences for offenders. None of this is particularly new but in more recent years, the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ pirates in the eyes of the public and policymakers has proven too good to miss.
The problem, it seems, is that Joe Public doesn’t really consider streaming a movie or TV show to be a particularly serious matter. Neither do most people feel that media piracy should be given priority over burglaries, car theft, large-scale drug dealing, violent crime, child abuse or similar exploitation.
But what if there was a subtle way to directly link illegal streaming to the most despicable of crimes, crimes that most people really care about?
The headline of a recent Forbes article promised just that: “Sweden: Up To 600,000 IPTV Users Support Human Trafficking Every Month” it declared. If you don’t worry about piracy then perhaps this will get you to change your mind, it suggested.
Much of the article is focused on Sweden’s problems with IPTV providers, their networks of resellers, and the users who buy their subscriptions. In a nutshell, Sweden should be harder on people who buy pirate subscriptions but it can’t because the law and funding for law enforcement are lacking. The same is true for IPTV resellers, despite the estimated $45m per year they funnel to the “organized crime groups” providing the illegal streams.
It’s completely understandable that Sweden doesn’t have the resources to go after hundreds of thousands of end-users but surely, funding is available to deal with the most heinous of crimes?
“The effects of hundreds of thousands of customers transferring funds on a monthly basis to organized crime groups is being underestimated. Due to their tremendous and continuous incoming flow of funds, those organizations support everything from human trafficking to arms trafficking,” says Anders Braf, CEO at Nordic Content Protection Agency, according to Forbes.
The article goes further still. It cites law enforcement sources that claim pirate IPTV providers are closely connected to other major crimes too, including child abuse and drug shipments. If true, this could be the public relations coup the entertainment industries need but, in common with the overwhelming majority of similar claims made in the past, zero evidence is provided.
According to Forbes, the reason for not backing up the claims is that the interviewed members of law enforcement insisted that details should not be disclosed in the article to protect “investigation tactics.” They could, of course, have cited previous public cases where pirate site operators were also jailed for arms trafficking or, indeed, those where people smugglers were also sentenced for providing pirate streams. Unfortunately, and to the extent of our knowledge, none exist.
Herein lies the problem. If pirate IPTV subscribers are to be convinced that their purchases are causing untold misery, they are going to need more than a few anonymous quotes to change their habits. But, more importantly, there is a much bigger picture than that.
Al Capone, despite a laundry list of terrible crimes, was ultimately imprisoned for tax evasion. So, given that there is no money available in Sweden for dealing with pirate IPTV providers, sellers or customers, why don’t the police concentrate on the bigger issues instead? If they can round up the arms dealers, people smugglers and child abusers (apparently already known to the country’s anti-piracy groups) and prosecute them for those crimes, pirate IPTV disruption should be a welcome by-product.
All of this is more easily said than done, anyone can see that. But, by attempting to link streaming to some of the worst crimes around, it actually draws even more attention to the fact that there are much more serious crimes that are deservedly given priority.
No one is suggesting that pirate IPTV isn’t a big problem for media companies, it absolutely is. To use their terminology, they are having their goods stolen each and every day. Anyone would say the same in their position since millions in profits are at stake, money that – by legal definition – is being unquestionably siphoned off by criminals.
But of course, the general public already knows that, it’s just that they don’t see their viewing as particularly serious. One day, perhaps, they will see some real evidence that will change their minds. We’ll be standing by to report on it in detail but until then, we’ll be taking all such claims with a pinch of salt.