As pirate IPTV providers and resellers continue to provide access to low-cost premium TV services, law enforcement agencies around the world are stepping up efforts to disrupt their activities.
Pirate IPTV platforms remain popular in the UK, where they are the preferred choice to access matches from the Premier League and other mainstream content at affordable prices. As a result, many individuals are taking advantage of the market and attracting thousands of subscribers but action in the UK last summer shows that’s not without risk.
Police Swoop On The Home Of Alleged Operator of IPTV Service
On Thursday, June 25, Lancashire Police executed a search warrant at a house on Buckley Grove in the seaside resort of Lytham St Annes. Carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the supply of pirate IPTV services and illegal TV streaming devices.
What was particularly notable about the case was the seizure of high-value assets, including a Range Rover Sport SVR V8 and an Audi A5 convertible. At the time, police confirmed they had also seized designer clothing, designer bags, and jewelry.
TorrentFreak sources close to the investigation confirmed that a pair of Rolex watches, designer clothes, and exclusive trainers were among the items taken. We also understand that around £17,000 in bitcoin formed part of the seizure but none of these additional details have been officially reported or confirmed by the authorities.
Police Are Now Targeting Subscribers
In a new announcement this morning, police reference the arrest and seizures in the summer, noting that the man in question was released under investigation. Then, as now, police are still not naming the service in question but TorrentFreak can confirm it operated under the name North West IPTV.
At the time, reports in anti-piracy circles suggested that the service could have had as many as 32,000 subscribers but our information, supplied by a source familiar with the matter, previously downplayed that claim. Nevertheless, a substantial number of presumed customers of North West IPTV are now about to receive correspondence from the police.
7,000 Alleged Subscribers Will Receive Warnings
“More than 7000 residents, believed to have been using an illegal TV streaming service, are set to receive warning notices this week from Lancashire Police,” police said in a statement this morning.
“Our cyber-crime unit is issuing the warnings to subscribers of a service called IPTV which allows users to illegally stream premium channels at a reduced rate. Subscribers will receive the Cease and Desist Notices this week, via email, asking them to stop using the service immediately.”
The warnings, as yet unseen in public, will warn those who reportedly subscribed to the service that they are committing a crime that carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine.
Given the current sentencing standards in the UK it seems highly unlikely that a regular subscriber of such a service would receive a custodial sentence of any kind but given the involvement of the police, a criminal record is certainly possible. This, the police and copyright holders hope, will prove to be a sufficient deterrent for those considering a similar subscription in the future.
Evidence of Infringement
At the moment, Lancashire Police are not claiming to have any evidence of actual infringement or crimes carried out by any of those who allegedly purchased a subscription from North West IPTV or its resellers.
Instead, they appear to be relying upon contact information secured from the IPTV supplier’s customer database seized during the raid in the summer, which necessarily holds email addresses for correspondence purposes. Indeed, police also acknowledge that some customers may not even be aware that their purchase was illegal.
“People who subscribe to these services might not realize that they are illegal, but the simple fact is that they are,” says Olivia Dodding from Lancashire Police Cyber Crime Unit.
“What may cost you a relatively small fee, actually results in television producers and sports broadcasters losing millions of pounds which affects their ability to make and show sports events and entertainments series, which many of us enjoy watching.
“Anyone who subscribes to IPTV or any other steaming service [sic] should stop now to avoid facing prosecutions themselves.”
Similarities With Action Against GE Hosting
In late June, subscribers to pirate IPTV service Global / Global Entertainment were given an unwelcome surprise. Rather than seeing the normal array of content on their screens, they were instead greeted by a notice from a police force in the UK.
“This illegal stream has been seized By Norfolk and Sussex Police,” it began. “Watching illegal broadcasts is a crime. Your IP address has been recorded. You are instructed to cease and desist immediately from all illegal media streaming.”
At the time a 24-year-old man was arrested under section 44 of the Serious Crime Act and Section 11 of the Fraud Act under suspicion of obtaining services dishonestly and concealing/converting criminal property, i.e money laundering.
Progress in that investigation is unknown but in September it became clear that police were also interested in the service’s customers.
In emailed letters sent to alleged subscribers, police warned that viewers were committing an offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine. This seems to be in line with the warning issued by Lancashire Police this morning.
Also, in common with the case handled by Norfolk and Sussex Police, Lancashire Police are warning that customers of North West (and potentially its resellers) will have their behaviors “monitored” by the authorities, to ensure they are complying with the emailed cease-and-desist.
Again, there is no indication of what that monitoring might entail but having the same email address or payment method turn up at another provider at some point in the future might be enough to trigger some kind of investigation.
Given the resources available to police in general it seems very unlikely that a wave of prosecutions will follow but given the aim is to disrupt and deter, it cannot be ruled out that a handful of individuals could face prosecution in the future, if they keep sticking their heads far enough above the parapet, in defiance of the warnings.
Finally, even in the face of a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to pursue a case against a small-time subscriber, the possibility that an entity such as the Premier League could pursue a private prosecution at their own cost is always real and a threat not to be discounted.