In yet another legal battle against IPTV piracy, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in collaboration with Sky, has successfully prosecuted two men operating out of Belfast this week.
Padraig McVicker and Gary Doherty were the men at the centre of this operation.
McVicker, 43, and Doherty, 27, were sentenced at Belfast Crown Court for a range of offences, including “Selling, Distributing Or Letting For Hire Or Exposing For Sale Or Hire An Unauthorised Decoder,” contrary to Section 297A(a) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
In other words, McVicker and Doherty were selling or renting out special devices – commonly known as IPTV boxes – presumably configured in a way that allowed people to access TV channels and streaming services without actually paying for them.
While IPTV itself is not illegal and is, in fact, the backbone of many legitimate streaming services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, it becomes unlawful when modified to access paid content for free.
This week’s case wasn’t an isolated incident; it’s part of a broader crackdown on IPTV-related crimes that are becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread (see below on how to identify illegal IPTV services).
McVicker received a harsh sentence: eight months in custody and a further eight on licence. Doherty, on the other hand, was sentenced to 175 hours of community service.
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Phillips, the Police Service Lead on Intellectual Property Crime, had strong words on the matter:
“IPTV devices are legal when used to view free or legitimate paid-for subscription services and channels, but once adapted or reconfigured to stream content without the appropriate licenses and consent of creators, they become illegal.”
Phillips went on to add, “People think these are victimless crimes but often behind these services are international organised crime gangs, who engage in the most serious of offences.”
Matt Hibbert, Sky’s Director of Anti-Piracy, also weighed in, stating, “We were pleased to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland in taking this action, both to prevent access to stolen Sky content and also to protect consumers from the real risks of accessing content in this way.”
This case is a stark reminder that the authorities are not just going after the big fish – they’re also targeting smaller, local operations that contribute to the larger ecosystem of IPTV piracy.
It also serves as a warning to consumers. As DCI Phillips cautioned, “Users and subscribers of illegal services should also be aware that they too are committing an offence for which they can be prosecuted.”
The £7 Million Premier League Scam
Earlier this year, a landmark case saw five individuals sentenced to a collective 30 years and seven months in prison for operating one of the world’s largest illegal streaming networks.
The group, operating under names like Flawless, Shared VPS, and Optimal, generated over £7 million in just five years.
They illegally streamed Premier League football games to tens of thousands of customers by hacking live streams from legitimate broadcasters like Sky.
With more than 50,000 customers, resellers and 30 employees, the operation was sophisticated and extensive, which was one of the reasons for the harsh sentencing.
The BT Sport Scheme: A Fugitive’s Tale
Mark Brockley, the owner of an illegal IPTV service named “Infinity Streams,” was sentenced to five years in jail in his absence.
Brockley, who made £237,000 by selling subscriptions to his streaming service, is believed to have fled to France to avoid prosecution.
His service offered illegal streaming of BT Sport, including Premier League and UEFA Champions League matches.
The case highlights the lengths to which individuals will go to evade the law, but also the determination of authorities to prosecute those involved in IPTV crimes.
The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) identified that Brockley had made 5,251 sales with a total value of £237,058 between 2014 and 2019.
Scotland’s Young Offenders
In another recent operation, Scotland Police arrested two young men aged 22 and 24 in the town of Shotts, North Lanarkshire.
The individuals were believed to be key players in the distribution of illegal IPTV services. The operation led to the seizure of computer hardware and technology believed to be instrumental in the illegal operation.
When is IPTV Illegal? A Guide To Navigating The Grey Areas
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is a technology that allows you to watch TV through the internet, rather than traditional methods like satellite or cable.
On its own, IPTV is perfectly legal and is used by many mainstream services like Disney+, Amazon’s Prime Video, and ITVX.
However, the waters get murky when IPTV is adapted to offer content that should otherwise be paid for, without the proper licences or permissions. In these instances, IPTV becomes a tool for piracy.
So, when does IPTV cross the line into illegality? Simply put, IPTV becomes illegal when it is used to stream copyrighted content without the consent of the copyright holder.
This could mean watching premium TV channels, pay-per-view events, or newly-released films without paying the appropriate fees.
It’s not just the providers of these illegal services who are at risk; users and subscribers can also be prosecuted for accessing this pirated content.
How To Identify Illegal IPTV Services
With so many IPTV boxes advertised around the web, identifying illegal IPTV services can be a bit of a minefield, but there are several red flags to look out for.
One of the most glaring signs is the price. Illegal IPTV services often offer subscriptions at significantly lower prices than legitimate services. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Another sign is the range of content offered. If a service is offering access to premium channels, pay-per-view events, or newly-released films without requiring additional fees (or, the fees are too low), it’s likely operating outside the law.
Legitimate services usually have specific agreements with content providers and will charge extra for premium content.
The quality of the service’s website and branding can also be a giveaway. Illegal IPTV providers often have poorly designed websites with spelling errors, low-quality images, and a lack of proper branding.
They might also use logos from well-known broadcasters without permission, which is another red flag.
Lastly, payment methods can also be a clue. Illicit IPTV services may request payment through untraceable or unconventional methods, such as cryptocurrencies or gift cards, to avoid detection by authorities.