John Whittingdale, who was the UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport between May 2015 and July 2016, has called for a crackdown on illegal streaming, or risk throttling the UK’s creative industries.
Writing an opinion piece in the i newspaper, Whittingdale notes that January always brings a “treasure trove” of film or television to enjoy. “Whether it’s settling into your sofa to watch the football, enjoying new series like McMafia, or heading out to the cinema to watch one of the films being tipped to take home a Bafta or an Academy Award, such as the phenomenal Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, January is always a great month for entertainment,” he says.
“Unfortunately, this year, more than a million households are likely to conduct their viewing via illicit streaming devices [ISDs],” he says. “In doing so they will be undermining the economics of Britain’s world-leading creative industry and threatening to make it harder for our content creators to bring their ideas to life. ISDs, such as Kodi boxes, are a generation on from illegal computer downloads, because too often they allow consumers to watch infringing content directly on their living room television, thus normalising an illegal act,” he claims.
“Although the boxes themselves are legal, they are normally bought for the apps that can be added, enabling illegal streaming of films currently in the cinema, of TV programmes not yet aired in the UK, or of sports content only legitimately available on subscription channels More than a million of these boxes have been sold in the last two years, so even if you’re not using one, you probably know someone who is,” he suggests.
“The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) estimates that 13 per cent of online infringers are using streaming boxes, while around 6.5 million UK internet users are accessing pirated content in some form. The IPO launched a call for views on the subject nearly a year ago, but has inexplicably failed to publish its findings, meaning that the government does not yet have a full understanding of how much Kodi boxes are costing our economy, or a plan for defeating the pirates,” he asserts.
“Researchers have suggested that Kodi box pirates are siphoning as much as $4.2 billion a year out of the creative economy in the United States. In the UK, the impact on television and film producers alone is estimated at around £820 million – and that figure doesn’t include losses incurred by pay-TV providers and sports rights holders,” he advises.
“That is cash that should be going towards developing the next Downton Abbey, or helping to fund Premier League clubs thus allowing them to support grass roots football. If we as a nation are serious about getting tough on the pirates, the government must get on with developing a legal framework for tackling this threat,” he declares.
“This is not just about stars, but about the behind-the-scenes professionals – such as cameramen, stuntwomen, sound designers and marketing specialists – who make their living in film and television production. Our creative industries made a record £92 billion contribution to the economy last year, thanks to the many hardworking individuals employed in them. They deserve better than to have their work stolen. For lest we forget, using these devices to access infringing content is criminal behaviour, and must be treated as such,” he says.
“The proceeds are going straight into the pockets of criminals. There are many legal, safe and secure alternatives ways to enjoy content at an affordable price – and the options are only growing. If we want the best entertainment to enjoy in the future, we need to protect it now. Illegal streaming of copyright content is tantamount to theft and is already doing huge damage to our broadcasters, content creators and rights owners. In 2018, let’s take action to stamp it out,” he concludes.