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Five people have been arrested in a crackdown on the sale and distribution of illegal TV set-top devices in the North West of England and Wales.
The multi-agency day of action on February 8th saw the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), Greater Manchester Police, City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) join forces and execute six warrants in the North West England areas of Tameside, Bolton, Bootle, Manchester, Cheadle and Rhyl, Wales.
Fully-loaded illegal TV set-top devices were seized at the homes of the five suspects. These devices are pre-loaded with unlicensed add-ons and apps which then allow users to illegally stream content to their TV such as premium pay-for TV channels, live sport and films.
Collectively it is believed the suspects have made in the region of £250,000 (€293,000) across social media, online forums, as well as their own dedicated websites.
All were taken to local police stations for questioning and have since been released on bail pending further enquiries.
The day of action was instigated by FACT on behalf the Premier League, Sky, BT Sport and Virgin Media.
Officers from Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police and City of London Police also joined FACT investigators the day before (February 7th) to issue three Cease and Desist Notices to other offenders on a lower scale.
Two further investigations have also been passed on to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for further action. North Wales Police also assisted officers on the operation.
“Profiting from illegal streaming is completely unacceptable,” declared Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. “The UK’s creative industries are a national asset that must be protected. Today’s efforts have shown that partnership works. I wish to congratulate FACT and the police for ending these criminal operations.”
This crackdown follows the first prosecution of illegal set-top box sellers in England. This landmark case saw illegal set-top box supplier Terry O’Reilly sentenced to four years in prison in December 2016. A second supplier, Will O’Leary who worked with O’Reilly, pleaded guilty and received a two-year suspended sentence. The prosecution was brought by the Premier League with support from FACT.
Kieron Sharp, Director General of FACT, said the day of action should send out a clear warning to anyone involved in the sale and distribution of illegal set-top boxes that law enforcement and industry take this matter very seriously. “Set-top boxes loaded with apps and add-ons allowing access to copyright infringing material are very much illegal and anyone involved in selling these boxes should not be surprised to receive a knock on the door,” he added.
“Operations such as these are a vital means of protecting jobs supported by the entertainment and creative industries which are a vital part of the UK economy,” stated Detective Inspector Neal Colburn, of GMP’s Asset Attack Team. “GMP is committed to this multi-agency approach, which is driven by intelligence sharing, and will continue to be part of this successful partnership to tackle copyright-related crime,” he confirmed. “Today’s action should send a clear message to anyone who thinks it is acceptable to be part of this illegal industry which is robbing honest people of jobs and insulting law-abiding consumers who pay for their channels with their hard-earned money.”
“This operation is aimed at taking out distributors of illegal set-top boxes in the north west of England,” explained DCI Pete Ratcliffe, Head of the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit. “This industry undermines the legitimate sale of subscription television services which employ tens of thousands of people in the UK and whose contributions are key to the creative and sporting industries.”
“FACT has done an excellent job coordinating these raids with the appropriate authorities,” said Premier League Director of Legal Services, Kevin Plumb. “Like other sports and creative industries, the Premier League’s model is predicated on the ability to market and sell rights and protect its intellectual property. It is because of this that clubs can invest in star players and managers, and world class stadiums – the very things fans enjoy about our competition.”
“These raids follow a recent case we brought that saw a supplier of IPTV devices which enable mass piracy of Premier League football sent to prison for four years. It was the first case of its type and the fact police are now targeting and arresting others selling similar devices is further evidence for consumers that they are illegal,” he advised.
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