In the summer of 2019, the Covert Development and Disruption Team of the UK’s North West Regional Organised Crime Unit announced that a then 40-year-old man had been detained in Winsford, Cheshire, following a joint investigation with anti-piracy outfit Federation Against Copyright Theft.
Neither police nor FACT initially revealed the identity of the man but did state that he’d been arrested in connection with creating and maintaining a Kodi add-on configured to supply illegal online streams. Information provided by third-party sources indicated that the target was the operator of ‘Supremacy’, a popular Kodi add-on that provided access to a wide range of content, from movies and TV shows to live sports.
A week later that information proved to be correct when FACT confirmed that following consultation with rightsholders including the Premier League, BT Sport and Virgin Media, the decision had been taken to have the police arrest the man behind ‘Supremacy’.
More than two years later, that operation has resulted in a landmark victory for rightsholders.
Software Developer Pleads Guilty
FACT reveals that Stephen Millington, now 42, appeared at Chester Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to multiple fraud and copyright offenses in connection with his software tools. According to the anti-piracy group, Millington created and built a software package that enabled illegal access to BT Sport, Sky, Netflix and other subscription television content.
“Mr Millington was the creator of software package ‘stephen-builds’ which facilitated access to subscription television and film content without payment to the rights’ holders,” a FACT statement reads.
This appears to be a reference to pre-built Kodi media player installations that were distributed online under the handle ‘@steboy79’. Once installed, accessing unlicensed premium content was a breeze, something that made the builds very popular with end-users.
“[Millington] also supplied details of the ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Supremacy Sports’ add-ons, which enabled users to access that content via a group he set up and managed on Facebook, in which thousands of members were given instructions and support with use of the add-ons.
“Mr Millington also created multiple YouTube videos which helped users install the software and add-ons and demonstrated the ability of his ‘build’ to enable the viewing of subscription television and film content,” FACT adds.
Software Developer Sentenced to Prison
The criminal prosecution of Millington was brought as a private action by FACT with some very big numbers attached. According to its estimates, £3.8 million worth of content was made available unlawfully every year, to the tune of more than £10 million over the lifetime of Millington’s operation.
As a result, the now 42-year-old pleaded guilty to various offenses including making and supplying software to enable illegal access to subscription content, distributing infringing film content via a dedicated server he controlled, sharing login credentials for subscription streaming services, and illegally accessing content for his own use.
For these offenses, which the judge described as “clearly planned”, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
“When looking at loss in these types of cases you need to consider not only the companies that create and produce the content but also the loss to those who legitimately pay to subscribe,” the Judge said.
“There was sophistication in the way he created the build, clearly planned and it was also clear from the evidence that from his activities, thousands of users were provided with access to illicit content.”
Reactions From Police and Rightsholders
Inspector Chris McClellan from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit welcomed the sentencing and said he hopes this will send a deterrent message to “those who commit fraud and copyright offenses for their own criminal gain.”
Richard Crisp, Corporate Investigations Manager at BT, said the company’s anti-piracy team regularly carries out investigations against illegal app developers and IPTV suppliers, adding that pirate add-ons remain a problem.
“The development of add-ons that carry unauthorized channels causes a significant loss of revenue for the UK creative industries. BT will continue to work with FACT and wider industry partners to prosecute developers enabling this illegal distribution,” Crisp said.
Virgin Media, which rarely goes on record in such matters, said that piracy costs its customers and the creative industries millions of pounds every year. “We take this criminal behavior very seriously and support action which prevents the illegal distribution of copyrighted content,” a spokesperson added.
FACT Chief Executive Kieron Sharp thanked police, BT and Virgin Media for their support and warned that it will continue its work to hold offenders to account.
“FACT will continue to monitor channels used to advertise, market, sell and distribute software, add-ons, devices and streams to take action against suppliers and operators,” Sharp added.