Police Have a ‘Secret Weapon’ to Stop Fans Streaming Pirate TV For Free

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Police, anti-piracy groups, and sports companies are fighting a battle, not only to prevent pirate IPTV services from operating but also to stop fans from becoming illegal streaming customers. Interestingly, a potent part of their arsenal consists only of carefully constructed words that, when delivered into the hands of the lazy and unscrupulous, can be amplified to distort and mislead.

Pirate FireAs a publication entirely dedicated to reporting on copyright, piracy, torrent and streaming sites (plus all things closely related), here at TorrentFreak we aim to tell all ‘sides’ of the story.

We do not shy away from reports that show that piracy hurts sales and we have no problem publishing research projects that show completely the opposite.

It’s called balanced reporting and it hurts absolutely no one. Indeed, the whole idea is to present people with facts and allow them to make informed decisions. Generally, it’s all wrapped up in a desire not to treat our valued readers with contempt.

Yesterday we published a piece with ideas about how pirate IPTV might prove less popular with consumers during 2021. But there’s another element too, one that deserves a closer look.

Legal Basics

To clear a few things up before we begin, there’s no doubt that some piracy operations amount to organized crime. Large IPTV providers, with many staff and hundreds of thousands of customers generating millions in profit, could easily fall into that category. This isn’t a surprise to them, they know what they’re doing, and may or may not be ready to do the time. Their choice, their problem.

Also worthy of pointing out is that people who watch unlicensed streaming services are most probably committing an offense too under civil law in the EU and more specifically in the UK too, now that Brexit has been done. In some cases where they have clear intent, it’s also possible that they’re committing a crime too, i.e one punishable by the Crown.

So, let’s move on to the rant in hand.

Relying on the Tabloids to Send Messages is Irresponsible

British tabloids have a terrible record when it comes to reporting unbiased news. They regularly report in favor of specific political parties, ignore any positives presented by the ‘other side’, and always sensationalize the most mundane of topics while treating their readers as mindless morons.

But, arguably worse still, there are entities out there that seem happy to exploit this embarrassing blot on our society for their own ends. Anti-piracy groups have done it for some time but to see the authorities potentially stoking the fire too is not a great look and only detracts from their overall message, which is undoubtedly well-intentioned.

The ‘Kodi Box’ Cringefest

This tabloid feeding frenzy began when UK-based anti-piracy outfits were looking for media exposure. Not only for their own business promotion purposes, but also as part of entertainment company and broadcaster campaigns to drive awareness of the terrible things that could happen to so-called ‘Kodi Box’ owners if they were caught.

The problem, however, was that none of the journalists had a clue what they were writing about so simply spouted whatever they were told. Eventually, everyone in the country knew what ‘Kodi Boxes’ and similar devices could do, thanks to these ‘adverts’ in the mainstream press. It seems safe to say that this ill-conceived campaign failed to achieve its goals, unless those goals were to advise people on ways to avoid paying for content.

Tabloids Interest in Piracy Reignited

For many months the tabloids got bored with their sensational ‘Kodi Box’ reporting but then, fueled by press releases by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and Premier League, took an interest again. However, it wasn’t until the police got involved that their insatiable desire for ridiculous headlines and scare-pieces got the best of them and they started to appear all over again in 2020.

As reported here in September, police in the UK took down an illegal IPTV provider, noting quite correctly that the operators of such services face considerable legal implications. Of course they do, they’re running a criminal operation that probably involves all sorts of other offenses too, including money laundering.

However, it was the fact that the police were sending out emails to customers of that service, advising them that they too could be held criminally liable, that became the focus of the headlines. And boy did the tabloids deliver.

In response to the police claiming that mere subscribers of these services could get a five-year jail sentence, the tabloids went into overdrive with sensational headlines that were repeated again recently when another illegal service received similar treatment.

The first problem is that the tabloids are around to sell newspapers and generate clicks, not to supply sensible or measured information. The second is that the police in the UK should be only too aware of the tabloids’ track record for scandal and if we take that as being the case, they could’ve been more responsible with the information provided to them. Ultimately, everything hinged on a single paragraph.

“Persons whom subscribe to services like the service provided by GE Hosting also commit a criminal offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine, and consequently results in a criminal record,” the police announcement read.

Or in tabloid-speak, IPTV customers are running the risk of getting locked up behind bars until 2025. While technically accurate, this is obvious hyperbole. The big worry is that those formulating the press releases may have considered the tabloids’ predictable handling of the information and recognized it as a valuable tool for keeping the public in line.

Comparison With Similar Law Breaking Activities

If we take the law on possession of drugs, for example, we can see that possession of a Class B substance (such as cannabis) can also result in a five-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine. On the facts, possession of a small amount suitable for a few joints could mean a five-year stretch (at least if the tabloids decide to run with it) but in reality, police are able to issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine.

So do the police generally go around warning small-scale stoners via the tabloids that half a decade in jail awaits them for their crimes? Absolutely not. But for the relatively unknown offense of receiving a TV service without intending to pay for it, the opposite appears to be true.

To be clear, the fraudulent offense in question is similar to someone jumping over the wall of a football stadium without a ticket or making off from a restaurant without paying. The point is there are levels to crimes like fraud and subscribing to a pirate IPTV service is not something that is going to put someone behind bars for five years. Here’s just one example that shows how ludicrous that proposition is.

In June 2020, Daniel Aimson, who was serving a six-year sentence for running a cannabis farm, was handed an additional 12 months inside for running a pirate streaming operation. Not subscribing to one – operating one.

Unlike IPTV subscribers who, under Section 11 of the Fraud Act are being threatened with five years inside for obtaining a service with an intent to avoid payment, Daniel Aimson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, which could’ve carried a ten-year sentence.

Just to add more meat to the bones, at the time Aimson was shifting 1,640 illegal IPTV boxes, making at least £300,000 in illicit profits (none of which was declared to HMRC), and causing Sky an alleged £2.12 million in losses, he was a serving police officer with Greater Manchester Police.

Bottom Line – Be Honest and Don’t Trust The Tabloids

The point of this overly-long rant is simple. Knowingly subscribing to a pirate IPTV service with the intent of depriving a broadcaster is a crime in the UK but that information needs to be put into the public domain carefully. The police can’t be held responsible for how information gets used by the tabloids but there should be at least some duty of care when talking about the legal consequences.

The truth is that a simple subscriber to an IPTV service, absent of any seriously aggravating factors, is not going to prison in the current sentencing climate, let alone for five years. However, any conviction for fraud (no matter how small) has the potential to be a life-changing matter, especially when it comes to gaining or even keeping meaningful employment.

This latter fact cannot be disputed and it has the added bonus of being 100% accurate with zero elements of scaremongering. Even without the tabloid elements, those who place a value on their own quality of life should sit up and listen if given the facts.

What this approach doesn’t have is the propaganda factor that copyright holders and the tabloids absolutely thrive on. And that, unfortunately, could be the major drawback against it being adopted. The secret weapon in this war is the tabloids taking a grain of information and turning it into a scandal, and they don’t even have to be in on the secret or the operational details to do so.

They just do what they do best – insult readers’ intelligence on a daily basis. What the police and anti-piracy groups might consider moving forward is that they have the power to push them in the right direction when it comes to the news being delivered. It’s certainly worth a try and may even result in people taking the threats seriously, rather than dismissing them out of hand as scaremongering nonsense.

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