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Sentence in illegal Firestick case

June 4, 2024

By Colin Mann

Kevin James O’Donnell, from Liverpool in the northwest of England, has been handed down a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to charges of promoting and selling illegally modified firesticks that offered unauthorised access to premium film and television content, including live football matches.

The verdict, handed down at Liverpool Crown Court, follows an extensive investigation by intellectual property protection body FACT and Merseyside Police Cyber Crime Unit.

The investigation commenced in July 2022 after FACT uncovered that O’Donnell was actively promoting an illegal IPTV subscription service on Facebook. Operating under the alias ‘Kevo James’, his account boasted over 3,600 members and was used as a platform to sell modified Firesticks. These devices were illicitly configured to provide unauthorised access to sports, television channels, and movie content, bypassing legitimate providers such as Sky and TNT Sports, significantly undermining their commercial interests.

On July 4th 2023, Merseyside Police executed a search warrant at O’Donnell’s residence in Liverpool. O’Donnell was arrested, interviewed, and released under investigation pending further inquiries. The arrest resulted in the seizure of many digital devices, including computers, laptops, mobile phones and modified Firesticks.

A further forensic examination by FACT revealed that these premium packages, priced between £40 (€47) – £85 for a 12-month contract, were offered directly on an illegally configured IPTV device (fully loaded Firesticks). O’Donnell facilitated transactions through Facebook direct messaging or WhatsApp and provided delivery services by post or in person. It is estimated that O’Donnell made over £130,000 defrauding content owners of over half a million pounds.

Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT, said: “We are immensely grateful for the diligent work carried out by Merseyside Police Cyber Crime Unit. Their collaboration with FACT has been instrumental in holding O’Donnell accountable for his actions. This case highlights the importance of protecting legitimate providers as well as the significant impact that coordinated law enforcement efforts can have on combating digital piracy. The message is very clear: if you sell a device that provides access to content that is not licensed to you or owned by you, you could face criminal investigation, prosecution and a conviction.”

Detective Inspector Steve Frame added: “We have been working closely with FACT to ensure that O’Donnell is made to answer for his actions, and this was a great example of how police and industry experts can come together to tackle this type of criminality. The investigation found that O’Donnell had made a significant amount of money from selling these illegally adapted firesticks and had done so over a number of years through Facebook and WhatsApp. Illegal streaming is far from a victimless crime, and as well as the impact it has on businesses and content creators, it essentially means that legitimate subscribers pay for those who illegally access such services. Illegal streams also increase the risk of users receiving malware, which can put them at increased risk of falling victim to Computer Misuse Act offences. We will use all available powers and continue to work with FACT to identify anyone else who is involved in this form of criminality and put them before the courts.”

This prosecution is the latest in a crackdown on modified Firestick piracy. In March 2024, FACT in conjunction with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and the Premier League targeted a further 11 individuals across the UK selling illegal access to premium TV content, including live Premier League matches via modified or ‘fully loaded’ smart TV devices or sticks. One person was arrested, and 10 others were interviewed under caution.

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