Rightsholders seeking to crack down on pirate streaming services in the UK can do so under civil and criminal law but the former has mostly been abandoned.
Rightsholders such as the Premier League, Sky and BT Sport, with support from the Federation Against Copyright Theft, now tend to conduct their investigations before referring them to the police.
When cases are progressed, this usually means police-led raids, arrests, and seizures of key evidence. Then, based on a number of factors, subsequent prosecutions are handled by the state or via private prosecutions. According to sources familiar with the matter, a new criminal case will be heard in court next month, one that could lead to a custodial sentence for the suspect.
Marvel Streams Goes Offline
Early this year, UK-based IPTV service Marvel Streams appeared to be operating much like any other, offering live TV channels plus movies and TV shows as part of a cheap monthly subscription package. By the second week of March, the service’s Twitter account found itself dominated by complaints. The general theme was that the service had disappeared without notice and nobody knew what was happening.
“Is your system down or is there another link?” one user wrote. “I’m trying to renew and haven’t been able to, is the website down?” added another.
While some IPTV services manage to stay online for extended periods of time, others tend to come and go. While this means that customers lose any money paid in advance, it’s hardly an unexpected event and people move on. With Marvel Streams a fairly distant memory, earlier this month we were surprised to receive a tip offering information on the IPTV service’s demise.
Alleged Marvel Streams Operator Arrested in March
According to the source, Marvel Stream’s downtime in March was due to the service’s operator being raided in the UK. A second source familiar with the matter confirmed that was indeed the case, with one questioning why police hadn’t reported the arrest at the time, as is usually the case. Here’s what we know.
As part of an investigation reportedly carried out by the Federation Against Copyright Theft on behalf of Sky and BT Sport, investigators purchased a Marvel Streams subscription and confirmed that the broadcasters’ content was being made available illegally.
The case was later referred to NWROCU – the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit – which has been involved in similar cases over the past couple of years, including one that targeted three men in late March.
NWROCU officers accompanied by FACT/Sky/BT Sport representatives subsequently targeted a man in Claughton, Merseyside, believing him to be the operator of Marvel Streams. No other arrests were made, our sources say.
Relatively Rare Copyright Charge
Documents seen by TF indicate that a man in his mid-thirties was subsequently charged with two sets of offenses, both covering the period February 2021 to October 2021. It is common for IPTV operators to be charged under the Fraud Act but as far as we can see, that’s not the case here.
The first charge alleges offenses under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) 1988, specifically section 296ZB(2)(a).
It’s alleged that in the course of a business, the suspect marketed a service (Marvel Streams UK) that enabled or facilitated the circumvention of effective technological measures.
For cases normally handled under the easy-to-understand Fraud Act, the use of the CDPA in this matter is somewhat unusual. Charges related to circumvention of content protection measures are rarer still in IPTV cases, although in the United States they have been increasing in recent years.
A person guilty of an offense under 296ZB subsection 2 is liable (on summary conviction) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both, according to the CDPA. A conviction on indictment carries the possibility of a fine, a prison sentence not exceeding two years, or both.
Charge Under the Proceeds of Crime Act
The second charge relates to an alleged offense under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, specifically section 329(1).
Under Section 329, a person commits an offense if they acquire criminal property, use criminal property, or have possession of criminal property. In this case the alleged operator of Marvel Streams stands accused of possessing around £19,500, which appears to relate to revenue generated by the IPTV service during an eight-month period in 2021.
Penalties available under Section 329 vary from a maximum prison sentence of six months, a fine, or both, to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
We’re informed that the alleged operator of Marvel Streams will appear in a magistrates’ court (district court) early October and from there the case will be referred to a Crown Court for an appearance no later than November.