While many Internet users are happy to use the web to access movies, TV shows, music and sports streams, millions are now doing so from the comfort of their living rooms.
Amazon’s Fire TV and various Android and Linux devices are all capable of supplying legitimate content, but all have a darker side. With the right know-how and a few tweaks here and there, these cheap pieces of hardware can open a whole new world of pirate streaming.
As a result, a massive black market of suppliers has sprung up worldwide. There are basically two approaches. The first involves the legal Kodi media player and third-party addons. The second involves professional (but illegal) IPTV services as detailed in our earlier article, either piped through Kodi or dedicated Linux-powered devices.
Over the past couple of years, the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has targeted individuals selling these kinds of devices and services, but the first convictions have taken a while to arrive. Two have now been delivered and they send a message to people offering these devices in a commercial context.
After initially involving PIPCU, the prosecution of Terry O’Reilly, 53, and Will O’Leary, 43, was brought by The Premier League, the top professional league for football in the UK. It was alleged that the pair had been selling piracy-configured devices to both pubs and consumers.
In addition to other media, the devices were able to show Premier League football matches transmitted by foreign channels, a particularly sensitive issue for The Premier League.
In the UK, football is subject to something known as the “3pm Blackout” or “Closed Period,” which bans live football from TV between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday. The ban is designed to encourage match attendance but foreign channels do not abide by the rules. Using either modified Kodi installations or Linux-powered set-top IP boxes, these matches are freely available in the UK.
The case against O’Leary and O’Reilly was heard at Nottingham Crown Court where both were accused of Conspiracy to Defraud. Speaking with TorrentFreak this morning, a FACT spokesperson confirmed that the pair not only supplied the hardware and software, but were also involved in providing the unauthorized streams.
O’Reilly, 53, of Liverpool, was accused of selling 1,200 devices. He was found guilty of two charges of Conspiracy to Defraud and jailed for four years.
O’Leary, 43, of Coddington, Nottinghamshire, was described as a “reseller” of around 300 devices. Commonly, re-sellers purchase access to an already available service and then offer their own customers the same product (sometimes rebranded) while making a profit or earning commission.
O’Leary admitted one charge of Conspiracy to Defraud and was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for a year.
“This case is particularly important as it is the first involving sellers of so-called IPTV devices which enable people to watch illegal content,” says Premier League Director of Legal Services, Kevin Plumb.
“The courts have provided a clear message: this is against the law and selling systems which allow people to watch unauthorized Premier League broadcasts is a form of mass piracy and is sufficiently serious to warrant a custodial sentence.”
FACT Director General, Kieron Sharp also placed emphasis on the importance of the case in acting as a warning to individuals who sell such devices.
“The sale and distribution of these boxes, which are loaded with infringing apps and add-ons allowing access to copyrighted content, is a criminal offense and the repercussions could result in years behind bars,” Sharp said.
In September, the IP Crime Report 2015/16 cited IPTV and modified Kodi installations as a growing threat. FACT said tackling them would become one of its top priorities.
“In the last year FACT has worked with a wide range of partners and law enforcement bodies to tackle individuals and disrupt businesses selling illegal IPTV boxes. Enforcement action has been widespread across the UK with numerous ongoing investigations,” FACT said.
In response to the convictions of O’Leary and O’Reilly, The Premier League said that there can now be “no doubt for consumers that these systems are illegal.” However, it remains unclear whether using such devices for streaming in a private setting constitutes a crime.
The Premier League and broadcasting partner Sky don’t make any effort to target individual consumers who watch these broadcasts but the same cannot be said about device sellers and their commercial customers. Several cases against pubs have gone to court and now The Premier League and FACT have a conviction against suppliers under their belts.
Finally, it will be interesting to see if the convictions of O’Leary and O’Reilly have an effect on the case pending in Middlesborough against Brian ‘Tomo’ Thompson. He was previously raided by police and Trading Standards after selling “fully loaded” Android boxes from his shop.
Crucially, however, Thompson wasn’t involved in the supply of the streams, only the hardware and software. That could be all-important for the UK market for pre-configured Kodi-powered devices.