Over the past several years the sale of TV devices pre-configured for piracy has become a big deal all around the world.
Largely avoiding the inconvenience of scouring potentially dozens of websites looking for movies and TV shows, automated software tools embedded in these set-top boxes have provided a simple way to access the latest content from the comfort of an armchair.
The software of choice is often the Kodi media player which in itself is entirely legal until modified for piracy purposes with third-party add-ons.
Such devices can be bought online or commonly in the UK, via shops and market traders. This was the business of Londoners Thomas Tewelde and Mohamed Abdou, who sold modified ‘Kodi Boxes’ to the public via a stall at Bovingdon Market in Hemel Hempstead.
Their activities attracted the attention of Hertfordshire Trading Standards officers who carried out a covert purchase operation in July 2017. They found that not only were the set-top devices illegal but also fell short of electrical safety standards.
Earlier this month the men went on trial and after four-day hearing, were found guilty by a jury of offenses under the Serious Crime Act 2007 and Fraud Act 2006. Sentencing took place at St Albans Crown Court last Friday.
“This is not a victimless crime, every legitimate subscriber is a victim,” the judge commented during the hearing, as per the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), which assisted with the investigation.
“It may not be possible to calculate loss but it will be significant given the usual charge for services, number of devices, and period over which the enterprise appears to have operated. Another serious factor is that components were unsafe. It is clear that immediate prison sentences are justified for this type of offenses.”
‘Immediate prison sentences’ in this case comes with conditions. While Tewelde and Abdou were handed one year each in prison, the judge suspended those sentences for two years, meaning that if the pair keep out of trouble, they will avoid a stretch behind bars. Nevertheless, both are still required to complete 120 hours of unpaid work and must also pay £1,000 in costs.
Despite the potential for more serious punishment, the sentences were welcomed by the parties involved in the prosecution.
Andrew Butler, Head of Regulatory Services at Hertfordshire County Council, described the sentences as a “great result” for Trading Standards while FACT Chief Executive Kieron Sharp issued the customary warning to others involved in or considering the same line of business.
“This sentence shows that if you are involved in the sale of illicit devices you can receive a criminal conviction for fraud that will have a detrimental effect on your life,” Sharp said.
“We urge consumers to remain mindful of counterfeits and illicit goods being sold at markets as many illicit streaming devices have failed to meet UK safety standards, potentially risking the lives of loved ones if installed in the home.”
The sentencing comes close on the heels of several other pieces of news related to unlicensed streaming and related devices in the UK.
Last week, John Dodds, who was previously sentenced to serve 4.5 years in prison for selling pirate IPTV devices to pubs and clubs, was ordered to pay £520,000 to the public purse. The court warned that failure to comply will mean an additional five years for the man who was convicted in a Premier League-led prosecution.
Also last week, FACT revealed that a man who previously received a 16-month prison sentence relating to the supply of set-top boxes configured to receive Sky and BT Sport broadcasts without a subscription was ordered to hand over £10,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. In his case, non-payment will result in an additional six months in prison.
Last Wednesday, FACT investigators and the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) reportedly visited an address in North West England to execute warrants related to a “significant provider of illegal streaming activity.” At this stage, no further information is being made available by FACT or the police so who the target was or indeed the precise nature of the activity remains unclear.