While Internet piracy has thrived on desktop machines for decades, it is now quite common to find the activity taking place in the living room. Expensive equipment is no longer needed and bulky machines have been replaced by much smaller HDMI-capable devices.
There are several types around but the most common have Android under the hood. Typically in small set-top or dongle format, these products can be loaded with media software from Google’s Play Store or invariably “side-loaded” with more unofficial products such as customized versions of Kodi, Showbox and Popcorn Time.
These cheap IPTV systems can provide users with access to a bewildering array of free content, from movies and TV shows to live sports and other PPV events. As a result, copyright holders around the world are mounting aggressive crackdowns on those who sell such devices for infringing uses.
Some of the most prominent actions have involved the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), who together with police have conducted a number of raids in the UK in recent months. Most have taken place in England but news is now emerging of a large scale anti-IPTV operation underway in Scotland.
According to local police, two premises were raided in Glasgow this week as part of what they describe as the “world’s largest” investigation into pirate IPTV boxes which has been underway for the last 16 months.
While movie companies have shown an interest in these devices it appears the focus in Scotland is on the streaming of live sports broadcasts. These are officially offered by FACT partners the English Premier League (soccer) alongside distributors Sky and BT but individuals and pubs are obtaining them illegally.
Speaking with STV, police say that initial estimates of the scale of infringement are now being dwarfed.
“As of today we estimated about 500 pubs might be involved, but today’s investigation has suggested it could be thousands,” a spokesman said.
“This is undoubtedly the biggest operation of its kind in the world in terms of recovery. It’s a process that’s been done elsewhere but not on this scale, this is the biggest.”
In a comment FACT director general Kieron Sharp said that his organization is committed to working with law enforcement to crack down IPTV-related piracy, wherever it may be.
“Pub landlords, as well as the general public, need to be aware that IPTV and set-top boxes with apps and add-ons allowing the streaming of pirated TV, sports and films are very much illegal,” Sharp said.
“FACT will continue to work with police forces across the UK to crack down on the illegal sale of these boxes.”
In other action, police in Scotland say that in conjunction with FACT they have taken down three “major” torrent sites operated from the Edinburgh, Kilmarnock and Falkirk areas.
“We’ve been successful in removing these sites and work is ongoing to remove several more that we have identified, in what is undoubtedly a growing problem,” said Police Constable Andy Law.
“Hosts often believe they leave no footprint, but in reality we can trace sites back to an address and from there it leaves little scope for the culprit to hide their actions.”
Police have not revealed the names of the sites and there has been no indication in torrent circles of any large indexes or trackers going down. It therefore seems more likely that these are lower level sites rather than the “major” ones suggested by the police.
“Websites offering illegal access to films, music, games and books are threatening our creative industries and the 1.8 million people in the UK working in them,” said FACT’s Kieron Sharp.
“FACT is committed to tackling online piracy and together with our partners at the police and within industry, we will continue the fight to clampdown on anyone operating these sites within our own territories.”
These latest announcements come alongside news that FACT has lost the support of its movie studios partners alongside an estimated 50% of its budget. The MPA says it will carry out its own investigations from regional hubs in future.