In a historic court ruling, five individuals responsible for one of the world’s largest illegal streaming networks have been sentenced this week to a collective 30 years and seven months in prison.
The prosecution, believed to be the world’s most substantial for an illegal streaming network, took place at Chesterfield Justice Centre.
The defendants who were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and contempt of court, operated under the names Flawless, Shared VPS, and Optimal (also known as Cosmic).
Despite operating for less than 5 years, Flawless reportedly generated in excess of £7 million in just five years, distributed unevenly amongst those sentenced.
The group created a large-scale operation that illegally streamed Premier League football games to tens of thousands of customers.
This was done by hacking and stealing live streams of the matches from legitimate broadcasters such as Sky. According to images from the scene, investigators found dozens of pay-TV set-top boxes linked together.
The group would then redistribute the stolen streams from those devices through their own platforms to their customers, who paid for access.
The operation was so large and sophisticated that it involved more than 50,000 customers and resellers, along with 30 employees.
Illegal IPTV: What Is It?
The term “Internet Protocol Television” (IPTV) is often mired in confusion. On one hand, it refers to the technology behind legitimate streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, delivering TV content over the internet rather than through traditional methods.
However, the term has also become somewhat synonymous with unauthorized services that operate via the internet or “jailbroken” devices, offering pirated premium TV channels, films, and live sports events without proper permissions or payments.
In the UK, such unlicensed IPTV services are considered illegal. The use and distribution of these services can lead to severe penalties, including substantial fines and imprisonment.
As a result, the UK government and content creators remain committed to upholding intellectual property rights and actively prosecuting those involved in illegal IPTV operations.
Illegal Premier League Streaming Ring Busted
Mark Gould, 36, from London, was the ringleader behind these operations. As one of the original co-founders, Gould was described by the judge as the driving force behind the conspiracy.
His share of the profit was reportedly around £1.7 million. Although he initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, new evidence (thanks to the Metropolitan Police being able to crack Gould’s encrypted computers) led him to eventually plead guilty, resulting in an 11-year prison sentence on two counts of conspiracy to defraud and contempt of court.
Steven Gordon’s (another Flawless co-founder) share of the profit was also substantial, reportedly around £1 million. His involvement in the conspiracy led to a sentence of five years and two months on two counts of conspiracy to defraud and contempt of court.
Peter Jolley reportedly made £773,000 in profit from the illegal operation. In addition to two counts of conspiracy to defraud, Jolley also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering, after concealing almost £500,000 in his father and stepmother’s bank accounts.
He received a sentence of five years and two months on two counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
William Brown, a highly skilled technical expert, was employed by Flawless and Shared VPS to perform various roles. These included helping Flawless evade detection by authorities, hacking broadcasters and their legitimate subscribers to source content, and sabotaging and stealing content from rival illegal services.
Despite his many contributions to the operation, Brown decided to take the case to trial. In February 2023, he was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to defraud and was sentenced to 4 years and 9 months in prison reportedly.
Christopher Felvus made a more modest profit of £164,500, according to reports. His involvement earned him a sentence of three years and 11 months on two counts of conspiracy to defraud.
Zak Smith, a sixth defendant who is 30 years old and from Bridgnorth, failed to appear at the sentencing. Smith worked with Flawless in early 2018, selling information that he obtained from his employment at an online monitoring and enforcement agency.
His involvement in the illegal operation was identified following a raid on Mark Gould and a subsequent investigation. As a result of his actions, Smith was immediately dismissed from his position and arrested.
In February 2020, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud. Smith is currently listed as wanted on the Police National Computer database and is yet to be sentenced.
The Premier League, supported by multiple organisations such as Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Trading Standards team and FACT, undertook the investigation and prosecution.
Kevin Plumb, Premier League General Counsel, said, “The sentences handed down, which are the longest sentences ever issued for piracy-related crimes, vindicate the efforts made to bring these individuals to justice and reflect the severity and extent of the crimes.”
FACT CEO, Kieron Sharp, added, “This landmark case is a powerful reminder that piracy is a serious crime with severe consequences.”
The Premier League maintains one of the most comprehensive anti-piracy programmes globally. It is committed to bringing down illegal streams and prosecuting suppliers of illegal streaming services, thus protecting the rights of creators and content owners.
Just earlier this month, a man from Liverpool who made £237,000 by selling subscriptions to his illegal IPTV service, has fled the UK with sentencing done in his absence.
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