Organized Crime Unit Arrest Suspected Sky TV Pirate – What About His Users?

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Officers of the North East Regional Organized Crime Unit say they arrested a man on Wednesday under suspicion of supplying articles for use in fraud in connection with illicit Sky TV streams. The 52-year-old from Stockton-on-Tees was arrested and subsequently released under investigation, including for suspected money laundering. So what are the implications for his alleged customers?

nerocu-msRightsholders and their anti-piracy partners have faced an uphill struggle trying to convince the UK public that streaming copyrighted content from illicit sources is illegal.

News of legal ‘gray areas’ and other perceived loopholes in the law travel fast, but in the case of unlicensed streaming, the idea that no laws were being broken had solid support. In 2017, Trading Standards went on record stating that streaming consumers had nothing to fear under copyright law, a position supported – albeit briefly – by the European Commission.

Early 2017, Justice Arnold at the High Court said that in his opinion, viewing pirated streams was obviously illegal under copyright law and in April 2017, Europe’s highest court agreed. There had never been a gray area after all, but it’s up for debate whether anyone cared one way or the other.

Like never before, streaming piracy was skyrocketing.

Early 2017: Not Illegal. 2024: Supporting Organized Crime

Drowned out by a massive surge in streaming piracy, of live sports in particular, confirmation of illegality had close to zero effect on consumer attitudes or habits. In practical terms, rightsholders couldn’t do much with it either, despite the transformation from nothing particularly serious in 2017, to more recent assertions that consuming streams is illegal and fuels other criminality.

On Wednesday, the UK’s North East Regional Organized Crime Unit (NEROCU) reported a ‘strike day’ during which officers targeted “fraud and illegal streaming” of premium Sky content, with a broader aim to “defund and dismantle” wider organized crime.

“Today, (Wednesday), officers executed a warrant on Coxwold Road in Stockton-on-Tees that is believed to be involved in an illegal streaming operation involving fraud and money laundering,” NEROCU reported.

“The specialist police operation resulted in a 52-year-old man being arrested under suspicion of supplying articles for use in fraud and money laundering. He has since been released under investigation while enquiries continue.”

High on Detail But Not Always Where it Matters

Supplying articles for use in fraud as defined by the Fraud Act 2006, leaves plenty of room for speculation in the context of illegal streaming. Additional detail on the alleged crime would’ve been more useful than the name of the street where the suspect lives, but perhaps details were supplied in this format for a reason.

In summary, an ‘article’ under the Fraud Act can be a physical item such as a pirate set-top box, or a non-physical item such as a piracy app or subscription login for a pirate IPTV service. Anyone who makes, adapts, or supplies (or simply offers to supply) any article for use or in connection with fraud, while knowing what the article is designed to do, likely commits an offense under Section 7 of the Fraud Act 2006.

The 2017 revelation, that consuming unlicensed streams is illegal, could in theory apply to those who used whatever ‘articles’ the arrested man was allegedly supplying to watch streams. In reality, however, Section 6 of the Fraud Act (Possession of articles for use in fraud) is much more straightforward; possession or control of an article intended for use in the course of (or in connection with) any fraud, is an offense under Section 6.

And yet interestingly, NEROCU’s press release doesn’t mention that, not even in passing.

Police Frame Customers as Potential Victims

As previously reported, there has been an awful lot of misinformation – disinformation at times – published in British online publications in recent months.

Some readers may have seen the recent articles concerning the Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk fight and an earlier wave claiming that people risk £50,000 fines and ten years in prison for viewing illegal streams. There have been many others of course, and it will probably come as no surprise that we now know that at least one campaign was orchestrated.

The important detail is that when the misinformation starts to fly, official police sources are not cited in those articles. Sometimes older comments, completely unrelated to the article in hand, are woven in for effect; generally, however, those who enforce the law aren’t the ones driving the hyperbolic threats. For contrast, NEROCU’s statement from Wednesday.

While most people think paying for illegal streaming devices and services is a victimless crime – this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Illegal streaming services that supply entertainment and sports content via modified boxes, firesticks, and subscriptions, help fund wider organized crime such as human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, drug supply and other sinister crimes.

We’re also warning users of the many other risks associated with illegal streaming, including fraud, scams, exposure to inappropriate content, viruses, and malware.

So it appears that a cautionary word will suffice for subscribers. No raids on people’s homes, no life-changing fines, or a decade in prison. No carefully crafted sentences designed to mislead. Why? Because this is a police press release and the police are accountable.

People shouldn’t make the mistake of believing offenses are simply being overlooked, temporarily or permanently, however. Circumstances can turn policy in a heartbeat, and when that happens, the public will be informed. Just don’t expect to get an early heads-up, that’s not how policing works.


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