Year in, year out, people with an interest in Internet file-sharing discuss what is permissible under current legislation. It’s an important exercise if people are to stay on the right side of the law.
These discussions have historically taken place among enthusiasts but with the advent of easily accessible piracy tools such as Popcorn Time, modified Kodi, and Showbox, the man in the street his now taking part.
One individual that has provoked interest among the public is UK-based Brian ‘Tomo’ Thompson, who was previously raided by police and Trading Standards after selling “fully loaded” Android boxes from his shop in the north-east.
Thompson is now being prosecuted by his local council. He says he intends to fight back to discover where the boundaries lie for sellers of similar devices.
“All I want to know is whether I am doing anything illegal. I know it’s a grey area but I want it in black and white,” he said this week.
“I’m prepared to accept what the court decides but at the moment as far as I’m concerned I’m not breaking the law.”
There are many people who share Thompson’s opinion and there’s no shortage of supporters willing the Middlesbrough man on to victory against what some see as a vindictive prosecution.
But while this is indeed an attack on the little guy, Thompson is almost certainly about to sacrifice himself for little to no gain. Admittedly the case isn’t completely straightforward, but a conviction seems almost inevitable. Here’s why.
Hardware devices – whether a computer, Android phone, tablet, or in this case, a set-top box – are 100% legal. Anyone can buy, sell or trade such devices almost anywhere in the world with no issues.
Thompson knows this, describing the blank devices as “just like a big USB stick.” While not a great analogy, for the purposes of the law, that will suffice.
On its own, the Kodi media player is also 100% legal. Anyone can download, install, use or give away the software with no problems whatsoever. Installing Kodi on an Android device and selling it is legal almost everywhere and definitely legal in the UK.
If Thompson had only done the above – sell Android set-top boxes with basic Kodi installed – he would have no issues with the police or indeed Trading Standards. Individually and combined, the software and devices are completely non-infringing.
However, Thompson did not stop there. What he did was sold Android boxes with Kodi installed, plus all the extra third-party addons that allow people to view infringing movies, TV shows, live sports, plus all the other ‘goodies’ that buyers of these boxes demand. His adverts on Facebook make that very clear.
It is these third-party addons that make what Thompson did unlawful. Selling devices and/or software designed for infringing copying purposes is illegal in the UK. Encouraging others to break the law never goes in a defendant’s favor either.
According to The Northern Echo, since he was raided in March, Thompson has been selling boxes that do not have the addons installed.
“These boxes are available from all over the place, not just me, but it’s the downloading of software to watch channels that is apparently causing the problem,” he said.
But despite not offering them himself, the businessman continued to encourage his customers to install the addons on devices he supplied, despite being targeted twice previously by the authorities.
The advert below is currently available on Thompson’s Facebook page and many of the channels are subscription-only affairs. Judges rarely look kindly on people encouraging others to break the law, especially where big corporate interests are the perceived victims.
Finally, there is another issue that could negatively affect Thompson’s defense. In June 2015, a company called Geeky Kit was raided near to Thompson’s premises. That company was also targeted for selling fully-loaded Android boxes. That company’s storefront at the time of the raid is shown below.
The signage clearly states that items being sold within are being offered on the basis that they provide access to subscription TV package channels for free. Geeky Kit’s premises remained closed in the weeks that followed the raid but in August came a surprise announcement from Thompson.
Thompson is now set to appear before Magistrates’ Court next week in what will be a first-of-its-kind case. Much will hinge on the outcome, for Thompson and others in his position.
“This may have to go to the crown court and then it may go all the way to the European court, but I want to make a point with this and I want to make it easier for people to know what it legal and what isn’t,” he said. “I expect it go against me but at least I will know where I stand.”
While some definitive legal clarity in this area would help thousands of people to understand where the boundaries lie with these boxes, one can’t help but think that this is a particularly bad case for testing the waters.
Whether it will go entirely against Thompson next week remains to be seen, but if he wins the case and boxes with addons are declared legal to sell, it will be nothing short of a miracle. Companies like Sky, Premier League, and the Federation Against Copyright Theft, will rightly go into meltdown.
“It is the first case of its kind in the world so it is going to be interesting,” Thompson concludes.
He’s not wrong there.