It’s easy to think that if a product is sold in the open, whether that be on a reputable website or at a corner store, it must be legal. But that’s not necessarily the case. Just as counterfeit jewelry, handbags and apparel are easy to find, so too are streaming boxes specifically designed to provide illegal, unlicensed TV, film and sports content. And identifying an illegal streaming box is as simple as recognizing counterfeit goods. The price is too good to be true.
Historically, the only remedy for those whose copyrights were violated was to pursue civil action against the pirates. But now government agencies are getting involved. Just as law enforcement has long battled traditional counterfeiters, it’s beginning to focus more attention on those aiding in the trafficking of unlicensed media content. And people are starting to go to jail.
With the support of the English Premier League –whose live soccer games are heavily pirated around the world– England has taken the lead on streaming box prosecutions, but the US is also ramping up its enforcement.
British Law Enforcement
In December 2016, two Englishmen were convicted of conspiracy to defraud for selling pirate streaming devices to pubs and individual consumers. One man was sentenced to four years in prison, the other received a two-year suspended sentence.
In April 2018, two men were convicted and each sentenced to four years in prison for conspiracy to defraud for selling illegal steaming devices.
In July 2018, a husband and wife were convicted of conspiracy to defraud for selling illegal streaming devices and providing pirated tv, films and sports. The husband was sentenced to more than five years in prison; the wife received a two-year suspended sentence.
In March 2019, a British court sentenced three men to a combined more than sixteen years in prison for selling illegal streaming boxes to pubs and homes across England and Wales. The court determined that in doing so, the men robbed SkyTV of more than twelve million dollars in revenue from Premier League football.
In October 2019, a London man was convicted of selling streaming boxes that allowed customers to illegally view Premier League football and other content.
American Law Enforcement
In April 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a warning that anyone marketing, selling or operating a streaming box not compliant with FCC regulations is subject to significant fines. This warning is specifically directed at those who deal in boxes that provide unusually cheap or free content, and also their customers.
But fines are not the only threat facing sellers of illegal boxes.
In September 2019, two California men were prosecuted for selling illicit streaming boxes out of their suburban San Diego store. Boxes cost between $150 and $350 and provided unlicensed content for no additional cost.
Future of Law Enforcement
As streaming becomes more popular, and illegal streaming boxes more widely available, authorities are finding it necessary to impose more severe punishment to deter potential lawbreakers. Today they target sellers, but, as the FCC warns, users of illegal devices are also subject to repercussions.