Illegal streaming is a growing problem — here’s what FACT is doing about it

When you talk about illegal streaming, it brings to mind the days of Limewire and Napster. But whilst the music industry has a hold on things thanks to Spotify and Apple Music, for TV and film it’s a lot different.

The illegal streaming of TV shows is a growing issue and FACT, the UK’s leading intellectual property protection organisation, is working with the police in the UK to help stamp out the problem.

“There’s sort of a belief that it’s almost a victimless crime but it’s really not,” explains the organisation’s CEO Kieron Sharp. “There’s consequences for the leisure industries and consequences for the consumers later. You [could] have a situation where if people don’t pay for legitimate content, then new content won’t be made.”

Particularly given the issues the UK TV industry has faced since coronavirus, with filming paused for months, and now those working again are struggling with bubbles and testing. “There’s the economic consequences of lots of people losing their jobs,” adds Sharp.

Now the police are getting serious about dealing with illegal streaming, cracking down not only on the people who facilitate it but also those who use the illegal services. In June, the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary Cyber, Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime Directorate arrested a man in connection with suspected illegal streaming of premium TV channels and other copyrighted material. This service, named GE Hosting, was allegedly being distributed to tens of thousands of customers before it was shut down.

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As a result, the Directorate is issuing the GE Hosting subscribers with a warning that anyone subscribing to these services could be charged, which means they could be fined and sentenced with up to five years imprisonment. This notice is thought to be one of the first of its kind issued to the consumers of illegal streaming devices. For Sharp, this is a step in the right direction.

“This sets out a marker,” he explains. “When we work with other police focus on investigations and other setups, we can consider this direction going forward. The police are recognising it is serious.”

It all goes back to the early days of watching TV online. Sharp says the arrival of BBC’s iPlayer changed the game. “It changed people’s perception of how they could consume content. They had the opportunity to see things when they wanted to see them on whatever devices.”

Of course, with any big shift in habits comes interest from criminals. Yet it’s not just the issue of enabling the illegitimate streaming of content, but all the problems that come with it. Illegal providers can undercut on price and they don’t need to be concerned with security. A third of people who use illegal streams are subject to malware, phishing attacks and inappropriate content.

During the past few months, FACT did see an increase in illegal content streaming, in the same way legitimate streaming received a massive boost. Now, however, things are starting to come down to the pre-Covid levels says Sharp. “There will always be an interest, when you have pay per view boxing matches or a game or a new film comes out, there’s always a mini spike. What we’re looking at is what can we do to get those levels down and educate people in this instance, and continue to take action against those who make it available.”

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The work from the Norfolk and Suffolk Directorate will help part of that education piece, informing people that what they are doing is illegal. Sharp says that if anyone is concerned about illegal streaming to speak to Crimestoppers which offers an anonymous helpline to advise people on such matters.

A Sky spokesperson told the Standard: “It’s crucial that users understand that illegal streaming is a crime and that there are real risks lurking behind those streams.

“It’s encouraging to see more and more action to tackle illegal streaming, with broadcasters and rights holders finding increasingly effective ways to protect their content and law enforcement making more of a concerted effort to clamp down.”


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