Huge IPTV Piracy Ring Returns In £91k Premier League Bust

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The shadowy underworld of IPTV piracy claimed another victim this week, as a 42-year-old from Sutton Coldfield was sentenced to 12 months in prison for his role operating the service “Media Maverick”.

The man behind the service, Paul Merrell, managed to earn a hefty £91,243 over four years by providing unauthorized access to premium television content.

His service offered paying customers unauthorized access to channels from providers like TNT Sports and Sky TV, including coveted live Premier League football matches.

The extensive investigation revealed the true scale of Merrell’s criminality, and a 2021 raid revealed another dramatic twist: Merrell had connections to the infamous “Flawless” IPTV syndicate.

Watching football on smartphone phone

It turned out that despite the arrests of “Flawless” operators last year in a landmark case, Merrell had continued their criminal operation as a reseller. 

IPTV: A Double-Edged Sword

To understand the gravity of Merrell’s actions, one must first grasp what IPTV is.

Standing for Internet Protocol Television, IPTV delivers television content over the internet, as opposed to traditional terrestrial, satellite, and cable television formats.

While IPTV in itself is a legal technology, used by the legal streaming services we all know like Netflix and Disney+, its misuse lies at the heart of this case.

IPTV button on keyboard TV

Illegal IPTV services, like the one operated by Merrell, typically offer a wide range of channels, including premium and pay-per-view sporting events, at significantly reduced prices – without authorisation.

Users then access these channels through custom streaming devices, websites or applications, believing they’ve found a cost-effective alternative to standard subscriptions.

In the UK (and most other countries), such unlicensed IPTV services are considered illegal. The use and distribution of these services can lead to severe penalties, including substantial fines and imprisonment.

The Rise and Fall of ‘Media Maverick’

Paul Merrell’s ‘Media Maverick’ was certainly a lucrative venture while it was in operation.

Over four years, from 2017 to 2021, Merrell offered unauthorized access to premium television content, including live Premier League matches, to customers seeking to bypass the costs associated with legal subscriptions.

It offered content from providers like BT Sport (now TNT Sports) and Sky TV, acquiring customers online – with each customer paying a regular fee.

Sky logo on a TV

This operation was not just a hobby but a full-blown enterprise, generating significant income by exploiting the demand for cheaper alternatives to legally obtained content.

The investigation, spearheaded by FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) and Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards, was a testament to the ongoing work of law enforcement and regulatory bodies against IPTV services.

Beginning with a tip-off in July 2019, the case against Merrell unfolded over months, culminating in a raid on his Sutton Coldfield home in January 2021.

Police arresting a hacker
Illustrative Photo

The seizure of several digital devices provided the evidence needed to bring Merrell to justice, revealing the extent of his involvement with ‘Media Maverick’.

But the raid revealed another twist in the investigation: Merrell was connected to ‘Flawless’ – one of the most notorious piracy cases in recent years.

‘Flawless’ Lives On

The ‘Flawless’ operation was part of a landmark legal battle that unfolded at Chesterfield Justice Centre last year.

The case, which saw five individuals sentenced to a collective 30 years and seven months in prison, is considered one of the most significant against an illegal streaming network globally.

The defendants, involved in a sophisticated scheme under the guises of “Flawless”, “Shared VPS”, and “Optimal (Cosmic)”, managed to amass over £7 million by illegally streaming Premier League matches to tens of thousands of customers.

Premier League logo on phone
Premier League logo (Photo: Deposit Photos)

The accused faced various charges, including conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and contempt of court. Their roles ranged from orchestrating the network, laundering profits, to technical expertise in hacking and content theft.

This month’s Birmingham case, however, revealed that ‘Flawless’ lived on, with Mr Merrell being a reseller.

Evidence obtained on the Sutton Coldfield raid was crucial in identifying that the ‘Flawless’ service continued to run even after the key operators were arrested.

Judgment Day

In the Birmingham Crown Court, on February 2, 2024, the judge minced no words, describing Merrell’s operation as “a sophisticated, persistent commercial undertaking”, driven by profit. “It lasted for 4 years and would have continued had you not been stopped.”

Man in handcuffs

At the hearing, Mr. Merrell pleaded guilty to the following charges:

  • Possessing, selling or distributing a device designed to circumvent technical measures
  • Providing, promoting, advertising or marketing a service the purpose of which is to circumvent technical measures

Tony Quigley, Head of Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council, said: “We welcome the 12-month custodial sentence and confiscation order for  £91,254 in this case, especially given the judges’ comment that Merrell knew what he was doing was unlawful.

“Anyone who thinks they can get away with illegal streaming of subscription channels or pay-per-view events should take heed – next time it could be you facing a prison sentence and a hefty fine.”

How To Identify Illegal IPTV Services

Identifying illegal IPTV websites can be tricky, but there are several red flags that consumers can look out for to avoid falling into the trap of digital piracy.

Streaming watching movies films on tablet
Photo: Deposit Photos

Low Prices: Unusually cheap rates for premium content often indicate an illegal service. Compare those prices with authorised providers.

Content Range: Offering extensive premium or newly-released content without extra charges is suspicious.

Platform Quality: Illegal services often have poorly designed websites or apps, including errors and low-quality visuals.

Payment Options: Unusual payment requests, like cryptocurrency or gift cards, can signal illegality.

Support and Contact: The absence of transparent contact details or customer support hints at potential issues.

Promotion Methods: Advertising primarily on unofficial channels or through unsolicited communication is a red flag.

Remember: if an offer seems too good to be true, it likely is. Stick to known and reputable streaming services for a safe and legal viewing experience.

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