Crack-down on video streaming-piracy on the rise

January 7, 2017 - 4 Comments

Regardless of the ongoing debate on the efficacy of legal action against illegal streaming, there seems to be more legal action initiated, with pretty significant judgments, across more territories and jurisdictions.

Two reports on action against illegal streaming caught my eye last month. The first was the conviction and four-year prison sentence for Terry O’Reilly in the UK. O’Reilly had apparently been selling IPTV devices which facilitated mass piracy, including the unauthorized distribution of Premier League football events from foreign channels. The second was the decision in Australia by a Federal court, which ordered major ISPs to block access to five big pirate-video sites.

While the industry is moving in support of new viewing habits: OTT and the expectation to watch any content, on any device, any time, everyone knows these services cannot come free of charge. And yet, many viewers – perhaps out of habit (or perhaps because it’s so easy) – make the effort to bypass payment. So it is no surprise that rights-owners are up-in-arms pushing for more legal enforcement of their copyrights. This is not trivial. There are territorial issues related to obtaining rights internationally. Enforcement relies on each territory’s legal and political system and the discretion of local, national legislative and judiciary institutions.

Clearly content owners and broadcasters have had enough. And the rise in legal enforcement and serious penalties against those offering content without authorization is a further reflection of greater public and government awareness that the issue of content-sharing (not to say stealing) has gotten out of hand.

Reports by the likes of MarkMonitor, NetNames, Muso and others who crawl the internet and count the instances and availability of pirated premium content such as live sports and high-profile drama series have certainly contributed to this awareness. Technology companies – Cisco amongst them – help turn the awareness into action with tools to detect illicit content and identify streaming sources; these provide rights-holders the evidence required to prove piracy – accurately and on a large scale. Indeed, in the last two years this has resulted in a marked increase in the requests for blocking and removal of sites that offer access to otherwise unauthorized or costly content, as well as in law suits against – and actual penalties on – the individuals who provide such access.

Several big cases, over the last two years alone – show that the trend is global and that more operators in more countries are seeking to protect their rights, with cross-regional legal action. In 2015, four Korean content rights owners sued a Chinese pirate network, TVpad, for copyright infringement, unfair competition and illicit distribution of pirate streaming devices and content in the US. While they estimated their loss to piracy at $358,741,454 US, the California judge awarded them $65,315,954. In a second case against the distributors of the TVpad device, a US District Court in California issued an injunction to stop the illegal distribution of CCTV’s and TVB’s content on TVpad. The injunction instructed ISPs to cease providing services used to illegally distribute the Chinese programming in US. This year in August, the Swedish police raided Advanced TV Network Sweden (ATN), which had been selling pirate IPTV boxes and subscriptions for several years. The prosecutor obtained a sequestration order for approximately $28m US, which was calculated based on 70,000 subscribers to the network over a 3-year period. Then, in November, a Spanish court ordered the streaming site Rojadirecta to stop offering links to football matches and instigated criminal investigations against the company. And just as 2016 came to an end, we completed a rounded globe-trot with two ongoing cases; the one case initiated by Bell, Rogers and Quebec’s Vidéotron against approximately 45 Canadian companies that are accused of selling Android boxes loaded with special software that enables unauthorized access to a multitude of TV content. In the second case, an Israeli court ordered local ISPs to block the popular streaming site SdarotTV, recognizing that the site distributes video content without the rights-owners’ authorization. The court acknowledge that the site is profiting from others’ intellectual property and causing them significant financial losses. The site-owners are currently challenging the court’s decision, and claim the servers are off-shore and the court ruling doesn’t apply.

It seems evident that the video industry’s battle against illicit streaming and content-sharing has stepped up a notch. There will be those who continue to question the legitimacy of this battle, or even the effect that legal action has on reducing the problem. How much of a dent legal action can make in reducing the losses to streaming piracy is yet to be seen.

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  1. The fault in this article is that, actually, the industry is NOT “moving in support of new viewing habits”.
    Users have the expectation that content on the Internet should not be limited by country boundaries, that’s it. It has little to do with not wanting to pay for that content. People want all content to be available everywhere and want flexible paying models. If the industry would make paying for content as easy as it is to access it for free via a pirate website, people would pay. People don’t want to pay a 12 months payTV subscription to view a single footbal match. People can’t understand why TV series xyz is available in company 123’s US marketplace but not in the French one, for example. The “industry”is defending a 20th century, TV-centric model, that’s been obsoleted by the advent of the Internet. Everybody already realized that, except for the content industry.

    • Marco – we can agree to disagree in some part: I see the industry moving in the direction of supporting the variety of viewing habits consumers desire. The changes – technological, operational and economic – that enable pirate streaming today, quite easily and with relatively high profit and low risk to the pirates, challenge Video service providers to seek out creative differentiators. Consider the new the new business models offered by leading payTV operators around the world: there is clearly a move towards providing you with the ability to pick and choose the content you want and the device you will use – with OTT, pay-per-event and DVR services on multiple devices

      The observation in this article focuses on the increase in legal action against piracy. What we are seeing is not intended to prevent people from watching what they want, when they want it, but rather to protect the rights of the creators of content to get paid for its distribution. One should pay for content because its the right thing to do. Anything else is theft, and is clearly and increasingly seen as such by courts around the world.

      Would like to recommend reading “Streaming Sharing Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment”, wherein MD Smith and R Telan analyze market processes and data to show the constraints the video service providers face today in competing with pirate networks, both to maintain an economic edge and to protect copyright.

    • The “marketplace” is moving towards no-geoblock streamed OTT content, sure, but unevenly. It depends on what part of the marketplace you are talking about. Netflix and Amazon are the furthest ahead because it’s in their self-interest to shape the future market in their own image. But much of traditional Hollywood is still muddling around in a confused way. Their business is being stolen out from under them by tech companies and they are responding too little and too late, in most cases.

      Piracy will be mitigated somewhat by the switch to global OTT distribution but never entirely eliminated. However, it is such a trivial thing in comparison with the massive potential audience growth for the few companies like Netflix and Amazon that will win the OTT race, that it’s hardly worth bothering with.

      Piracy is too inconvenient for the average person. You have to pay attention to things like “use this version of popcorn time but not that one” or “don’t click on that ad!” or use an ad blocker or whatnot…what a lot of bother. People just want a button to push to get their shows without any fuss. That’s the value proposition that will win. This is a fight between Silicon Valley and Hollywood with piracy as a minor factor if anything.

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