Trump Promises Copyright Crackdown as DoJ Takes Aim at Streaming Pirates

President Trump says the US is "acting swiftly on intellectual property theft", noting that the country cannot "allow this to happen as it has for many years." Coincidentally, or not, a panel in Capitol Hill yesterday discussed the streaming box threat, with the MPAA revealing that the Department of Justice is looking at "a variety of candidates" for criminal action.

For the past several years most of the world has been waking up to the streaming piracy phenomenon, with pre-configured set-top boxes making inroads into millions of homes.

While other countries, notably the UK, arrested many individuals while warning of a grave and looming danger, complaints from the United States remained relatively low-key. It was almost as if the stampede towards convenient yet illegal streaming had caught the MPAA and friends by surprise.

In October 2017, things quickly began to change. The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment sued Georgia-based Tickbox TV, a company selling “fully-loaded” Kodi boxes. In January 2018, the same anti-piracy group targeted Dragon Media, a company in the same line of business.

With this growing type of piracy now firmly on the radar, momentum seems to be building. Yesterday, a panel discussion on the challenges associated with piracy from streaming media boxes took place on Capitol Hill.

Hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), ‘Unboxing the Piracy Threat of Streaming Media Boxes’ went ahead with some big name speakers in attendance, not least Neil Fried, Senior Vice President, Federal Advocacy and Regulatory Affairs at the MPAA.

ITIF and various industry groups tweeted many interesting comments throughout the event. Kevin Madigan from Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property told the panel that torrent-based content “is becoming obsolete” in an on-demand digital environment that’s switching to streaming-based piracy.

While there’s certainly a transition taking place, 150 million worldwide torrent users would probably argue against the term “obsolete”. Nevertheless, the same terms used to describe torrent sites are now being used to describe players in the streaming field.

“There’s a criminal enterprise going on here that’s stealing content and making a profit,” Fried told those in attendance.

“The piracy activity out there is bad, it’s hurting a lot of economic activity & creators aren’t being compensated for their work,” he added.

Tom Galvin, Executive Director at the Digital Citizens Alliance, was also on the panel. Unsurprisingly, given the organization’s focus on the supposed dangers of piracy, Galvin took the opportunity to underline that position.

“If you go down the piracy road, those boxes aren’t following proper security protocols, there are many malware risks,” he said. It’s a position shared by Fried, who told the panel that “video piracy is the leading source of malware.”

Similar claims were made recently on Safer Internet Day but the facts don’t seem to back up the scare stories. Still, with the “Piracy is Dangerous” strategy already out in the open, the claims aren’t really unexpected.

What might also not come as a surprise is that ACE’s lawsuits against Tickbox and Dragon Media could be just a warm-up for bigger things to come. In the tweet embedded below, Fried can be seen holding a hexagonal-shaped streaming box, warning that the Department of Justice is now looking for candidates for criminal action.

What form this action will take when it arrives isn’t clear but when the DoJ hits targets on home soil, it tends to cherry-pick the most blatant of infringers in order to set an example with reasonably cut-and-dried cases.

Of course, every case can be argued but with hundreds of so-called “Kodi box” sellers active all over the United States, many of them clearly breaking the law as they, in turn, invite their customers to break the law, picking a sitting duck shouldn’t be too difficult.

And then, of course, we come to President Trump. Not usually that vocal on matters of intellectual property and piracy, yesterday – perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not – he suddenly delivered one of his “something is coming” tweets.

Given Trump’s tendency to focus on problems overseas causing issues for companies back home, a comment by Kevin Madigan during the panel yesterday immediately comes to mind.

“To combat piracy abroad, USTR needs to work with the creative industries to improve enforcement and target the source of pirated material,” Madigan said.

Interesting times and much turmoil in the streaming world ahead, it seems.

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