A UK court this week sentenced the individual behind a large-scale illegal streaming operation to two and a half years in prison.
The case, led by West Mercia Police, revealed that the operation had amassed a staggering £1 million over five years.
Steven Mills, a 58-year-old Shrewsbury resident, was found guilty of operating an intricate streaming service, chiefly broadcasting Premier League matches to a claimed base of over 30,000 subscribers, through custom apps on Amazon’s Fire TV devices.
In these types of cases, the illegal platforms either sell “jailbroken” Firesticks with the illegal IPTV app already installed, or provide instructions on how to install those apps on customers’ existing streaming devices (see below on how to identify illegal Fire TV IPTV apps/services).
This verdict follows a meticulous investigation carried out by the Premier League, West Mercia Police, and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
Mills’ operation, disguised under the trading names Pikabox and Eyepeeteevee, utilized Fire TV devices to provide a wide spectrum of sports and entertainment content through a custom-designed app.
This case brings forth the relentless and sophisticated nature of digital piracy networks, and the substantial financial gains at stake – with many customers not even realising they’re doing something illegal.
The Investigation And Operation Takedown
Trading under pseudonyms, Mills exhibited significant cunning in evading detection. By employing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and posting bundles of cash to suppliers, he managed to operate below the radar for an extended period.
His modus operandi also involved creating tutorial videos to assist his clientele in accessing the illegal streams, further highlighting the sophisticated and customer-oriented nature of modern-day piracy operations.
Following the investigation, a series of raids were executed, leading to the identification of over 1,000 customers.
The enforcement actions saw officials from the police and FACT reaching out to these individuals in their homes, serving notices to halt illegal streaming activities.
Moreover, a unique facet of Mills’ conviction was the separate charge for personally accessing the illegal content he was distributing.
The court recognised his own use of the unauthorized service as a distinct crime, meriting a separate prison sentence.
This aspect of the case shows how the legal system is thorough in punishing different parts of digital piracy, going after not just the sharing, but also the watching of illegal content.
The Fight Against IPTV Across The UK And Ireland
With streaming services becoming so popular, the term “IPTV” has become somewhat confusing – as it relates to both legal and illegal services.
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is simply the name of the technology that delivers television content over the internet, rather than through traditional terrestrial, satellite, or cable TV formats.
Therefore, any streaming service operates via IPTV – Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, etc. Those IPTV-based services are of course legal, and are paying the necessary royalties to content providers.
However, many unauthorized services also present themselves as “IPTV”, and the term has unfortunately become synonymous with those illegal services that occasionally pop up online, and are available either via websites or on “jailbroken” streaming devices.
These unauthorized services often offer pirated content, including premium TV channels, movies, and live sports events, without the proper permissions or payment to content owners.
In the UK, the use and distribution of unlicensed IPTV services are illegal and can result in severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
The sentencing of Steven Mills resonates with a series of recent IPTV-related busts across the UK and Ireland, spotlighting the extensive and ongoing battle against digital piracy.
Amongst them, a recent case involved Sky’s assistance, wherein individuals were arrested and sentenced to jail for distributing Sky’s content without authorisation.
Understanding Jailbroken Firesticks And Illegal IPTV Apps
Amazon’s Fire TV sticks are popular devices for streaming entertainment, but they can also be altered to access unauthorised content through a process known as jailbreaking.
It’s important to note that jailbreaking or “sideloading” unofficial apps aren’t illegal acts – many people use these methods to install “safe” apps and add interesting functions to Fire TV devices.
However, this process also allows users to install third-party applications that provide free access to premium content such as Premier League matches.
The process of jailbreaking is fairly simple, which is part of its appeal.
By changing a few settings on the device and installing certain applications, users can access a wider range of content – sometimes without fully realising they’re watching illegal content.
While the idea of free access to premium content may sound appealing, there are significant risks involved.
Firstly, accessing or distributing content without the necessary licenses is illegal and can result in fines or even imprisonment, as highlighted by the recent conviction of Steven Mills.
Additionally, jailbroken devices are more vulnerable to malware and other security threats.
Unauthorised third-party applications lack the security measures found in legitimate apps, potentially exposing users to malicious software that could compromise personal data and privacy.
Identifying Illegal IPTV Sites/Apps
Illegal IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) sites and apps offer streaming services without the proper licensing, often providing access to premium content for free or at a significantly reduced cost.
These platforms can be identified by their offering of content that normally requires a subscription, at no cost or at prices that seem too good to be true.
They might also lack professional websites or user agreements, and may have poor performance or quality compared to legitimate services.
Avoiding Unlawful Streaming
When purchasing a Firestick, it’s important to buy from reputable retailers to ensure the device has not been altered.
If a Firestick is advertised with pre-installed third-party applications or promises of free access to premium content, it’s likely jailbroken.
It’s also advisable to avoid IPTV sites and apps that offer unauthorised access to premium content. Stick to well-known and reputable streaming services to ensure a safe and legal viewing experience.
Legal and Industry Reactions
The legal and industry stakeholders have lauded the sentencing of Steven Mills as a monumental step in the right direction.
Kevin Plumb, Premier League General Counsel, emphasised the importance of public awareness regarding the illegal nature and the criminal consequences associated with using illicit streaming services:
“It is vital that the public continue to be made aware of the dangers and criminality associated with using illegal streaming services.
“We are aware that so-called ‘Firesticks’ are being sold as a means of illegally accessing all kinds of content, and today’s judgment should remove any doubt that it is illegal and treated very seriously by the courts.”
Similarly, Detective Inspector Matt McNelis and Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT, highlighted the collaborative approach as crucial in tackling this form of criminality.
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