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.