Early January, anti-piracy group FACT and West Mercia Police announced they would be visiting addresses in the UK to warn people away from pirate IPTV services.
Police had obtained a customer list from a service they raided last year and, since many people hand over their real details to pirate services, tracking down some subscribers would’ve been trivial. None were ever destined for prosecution but they did have an important purpose.
Those visited are the physical proof that people who simply watch illegal streams risk a visit from the police. That’s a psychological step up, but not quite enough on its own.
People also need to believe that punishments are criminally significant. More fundamentally, millions of people need to be exposed to that message first. Paid advertising is an option, but it can’t compete with free.
UK Tabloids Need Clicks
After failing to consider the finer details and broader implications of FACT’s carefully written press release, UK tabloid media outlets published sensationalized stories with zero context.
The first claim – police were knocking on the doors of 1,000 suspected pirate IPTV subscribers – was a massive exaggeration. The second – two men had already been sentenced to months in prison for simply watching pirate streams – failed to mention that both ran their own piracy operations and received convictions for fraud. In just one of those cases, the prosecution estimated damages in excess of £10 million.
Due to the footprint of mass media, other publications had little incentive to set the record straight. As a result, a substantially distorted ‘fact’ reached millions in the UK and audiences in dozens of other countries around the world. Comments on a Russian state-owned newspaper article described UK police as “extremists” – let that sink in.
Since a reality check seems to be in order, in an upcoming report we’ll reveal the truth about those convictions for watching illegal streams, and compare them to the risks faced by ordinary consumers. In no small part, the motivation to reveal those details was provided by new and completely unsubstantiated claims published in the media during the last few days.
Sports News, Subscription/PPV Promotion, Piracy Warnings
Over the past few years, a new breed of articles has featured in UK tabloids.
Typically published in advance of a big PPV boxing event, articles appear with three components – sundry news about the fights, “stark warnings” not to pirate the fight (or go to prison), and then details of where the fight can be legally bought.
Eubank Jr vs. Smith: Big Fight, Even Bigger Warnings
After reading hundreds of similar articles, the intended effect can wear off, but a few days ago something extraordinary appeared in not one, but two UK tabloids under different ownership. Both articles promoted the Chris Eubank Jr vs. Liam Smith PPV boxing event that took place last Saturday night and did so in almost identical ways.
The Mirror ran with the headline, “Boxing fans sent prison warning over illegal Chris Eubank Jr fight stream.” The article itself made no mention of who issued the warning or what was actually said, but did have room for the following sequential paragraphs:
Sky Sports Box Office is showcasing the grudge match, with the price for the first big British boxing card of the year set at £19.95.
And new technology now enables sports’ rightholders and broadcasters to trace the unique IP addresses of users illegally streaming the fight – for up to six months.
Mail Online ran with the headline, “Boxing fans handed PRISON warning ahead of Saturday’s highly-anticipated middleweight clash.” This time the article did cite a source for the warnings: “Police reissued warnings for those intending to illegally stream the fight.”
No specific police unit or officer received credit for the warning, but Mail Online did repeat the same IP address claims published by The Mirror. Unfortunately, neither cited a source or attempted to explain how this “new technology” might work. How sports reporters got the best anti-piracy scoop of the last 20 years also remains a mystery.
Remember TV Detector Vans? Meet Piracy Detector Tracking Cars
If you aren’t wearing a tin foil hat right now, find something with equivalent protection and buckle up. The articles referenced above were written by two different people, and published in two separate publications under different ownership.
Both articles are based on the same exclusive information, have the same structure, and make the same extraordinary claims. Some take scare tactics to a brand-new level.
The Mirror: “Cars driving across the UK have also been fitted with tracking devices as police identity the households illegally streaming such events during the crackdown.”
Mail Online: “It is part of a wider police attempt to decrease illegal streaming, and cars have been fitted with apparatus that will allow them to pick up and track streamers to their homes.”
If this claim had substance – real substance – it would make for an irresistible tabloid headline, not something casually bumped between paragraphs in a boxing article. Then there’s the question of how it came to appear in there at all.
Did two independent journalists simultaneously discover the existence of piracy spy vehicles driving all over the UK? On the balance of probabilities, the theory fails to convince. Equally unlikely is a scenario where one writer spotted the other’s work and thought that the claim was so generic, nobody would notice it being republished in a rival newspaper.
Could it be possible, that by some coincidence, the articles relied on the same source? Without cooperation and full disclosure, that would be hard to prove. But if there was an aim, somewhere along the murky tip supply chain, to deter piracy by revealing the existence of Illegal Streaming Detector Cars, here’s the breaking news: it’s been tried before and it didn’t work.
The BBC’s ‘TV Detector Vans‘ have been objects of ridicule in the UK for the last 60 to 70 years. The BBC refuses to discuss them in response to FOIA requests and the suspicion here is that ISDCs (all anti-piracy terms MUST have an acronym) will find themselves shrouded in similar mystery.
In the meantime, all “hacked and dodgy Firesticks” should be immediately wrapped in tin foil and buried outside. For extra protection, make a tin foil hat and take two spoons of common sense every four hours.