Police have arrested five people on suspicion of selling ‘pirate’ set-top boxes configured to receive pay TV. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit teamed up with FACT, Sky, Virgin, BT, and The Premier League to arrest the sellers, who allegedly supplied Kodi with unlicensed addons.
After a decade of torrent sites ruling the pirate seas, streaming sites are now all the rage. These sites are not always the friendliest places to navigate though, unless users get a little help.
What people are discovering in ever-increasing numbers is that the popular and entirely legal Kodi media player can present content from endless streaming sites in a TV friendly interface. This is achieved via third-party addons, often with questionable legal standing.
While people were previously happy to do their own software installations at home, traders are increasingly doing the work for them, bundling the whole package into set-top boxes and supplying them for a few pounds, dollars or euros. The people behind Kodi don’t like it. The addon makers don’t like it and streaming sites don’t like it.
Most importantly, copyright holders, broadcasters, and the police don’t like it either, and yet again today they showed that in the clearest of terms.
In what is being described as a “multi-agency day of action,” FACT, Greater Manchester Police (GMP), City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) joined forces to target six individuals.
After executing warrants in Tameside, Bolton, Bootle, Manchester, Cheadle and Rhyl, four men aged 33, 36, 46 and 60, and a 36-year-old woman were arrested at their homes by PIPCU and GMP.
According to FACT, so-called “fully loaded” set-top boxes were seized from the homes of all five suspects, who are said to have made £250,000 from sales across “social media, online forums, as well as their own dedicated websites.”
Speaking with TorrentFreak, FACT confirmed that some of the seized devices are believed to have Kodi with third-party addons installed, while some will have “other software and/or infringing apps and add-ons that don’t require media player software.”
Software such as Popcorn Time, Showbox, CinemaBox, and Mobdro all fit that description and are used by huge numbers of people to receive movies, TV shows, and live sports without paying for them.
This is not only a massive thorn in the side of copyright holders, but distributors too. That could not be more evident today. Instead of the usual complaints from groups such as the MPAA, FACT reports that the operation was carried out on behalf of The Premier League, Sky, BT Sport and Virgin Media.
“This operation is aimed at taking out distributors of illegal set top boxes in the north west of England,” said DCI Pete Ratcliffe, Head of the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit.
“This industry undermines the legitimate sale of subscription television services which employ tens of thousands of people in the UK and whose contributions are key to the creative and sporting industries.”
Kieron Sharp, Director General of FACT, took the opportunity to warn other sellers of the consequences.
“Today’s day of action should send out a clear warning to anyone involved in the sale and distribution of illegal set-top boxes that law enforcement and industry take this matter very seriously,” he said.
As the dozens of listings on eBay and Amazon show, police can’t target everyone with a raid. However, it appears that other sellers have narrowly escaped police action and given a second chance to mend their ways.
“Officers from Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police and City of London Police also joined FACT investigators the day before (7 Feb) to issue three Cease and Desist Notices to other offenders on a lower scale. Two further investigations have also been passed on to HMRC for further action,” FACT reports.
With many sellers carrying out their business as a cottage industry sideline, the involvement of Revenue and Customs is an interesting development. There’s only one thing worse than a police visit and that’s a visit from the taxman, and if people receive benefits too, things can get extremely messy.