Due to the way many pirate IPTV services are structured, top level suppliers often rely on a cascading marketing system whereby subscriptions are sold and resold through a network of so-called resellers.
This type of arrangement allows lower-level individuals to sell subscriptions to their own customer bases while also helping to shield providers from unwanted attention from copyright holders and authorities. Of course, this can also draw attention to the resellers who end up shouldering the blame when investigations get underway.
Investigation in Sweden
In 2018, a representative of several Swedish copyright holders began an investigation into one such individual and in October that year, bought a set-top box from the man that came loaded with a one-year pirate IPTV subscription that boasted “ALL sports and movies”.
According to Aftonbladet (paywall), police raided the man’s house in November 2019 and found IPTV devices that were being sold through a website he had owned since 2009.
A financial investigation revealed that the 58-year-old had sold IPTV boxes and subscriptions on at least 119 occasions during the previous year, earning him up to SEK 300,000 (US$ 32,900). Police also retrieved data from storage and communications devices revealing sales of pirate IPTV subscriptions plus emails and text messages to customers.
Not Me, Man Claims
Two days after the initial house search the listings for IPTV devices were removed from the man’s website and according to Aftonbladet, the man provided details of his activities under questioning. During his court hearing, however, he denied wrongdoing.
The man claimed that the sales had been carried out by a third party in his name. He declined to name the person but the Stockholm District Court wasn’t convinced. He was sentenced for aiding and abetting violations of the Copyright Act and was considered for a four-month prison sentence. However, since the Court found that he was unlikely to re-offend, the sentence was suspended and he was handed a relatively small fine.
Damages to TV Companies
After finding the man guilty of copyright infringement the matter of damages payable to the four large TV companies behind the action remained. Aftonbladet reports that the damages were calculated based on the 119 illegal subscribers that gained unauthorized access to 56 channels for a period of a year. That means that the man must now pay damages of SEK 1.5 million (US$164,460) to the TV companies.
According to a 2021 survey from research company Mediavision, an estimated 225,000 Swedes subscribe to illegal IPTV services but according to the authorities, suppliers and resellers are their main targets – end users are not a priority.
“Customers are not prosecuted, they do not make copyrighted material available, which is one of the requirements to be a violation of copyright law,” says Brita Wallström who works with the police’s National Operational Department (NOA). Instead, Wallström says that for users, it’s a moral issue.
“You give your hard-earned money to someone who does not tax their income or contribute to society in general, so of course you should think before you buy this type of service. There is also a risk that the service will be shut down.”
Other countries around Europe do not adopt the same stance against end-users. In the UK, buyers of pirate IPTV subscriptions have been warned they could be committing fraud and in Italy, users face fines for receiving stolen goods.