Jailed for watching illegal streams – it could be you!

You may have seen a story in the last couple of days saying Police were about to visit 1,000 addresses in a “crackdown on illegal streaming”. This began as a Daily Mirror ‘exclusive’ but was soon copied pretty much word for word by other tabloid rags such as The Sun.

John Cross’s original tweet has apparently been viewed 6.3 million times at time of writing, if Twitter figures are to be believed. They’re probably not, but it’s still going to be a big number, so there is clearly interest. It’s obviously a scare story designed to put people off buying hardware or software that allows access to sports and films you’d normally need to pay for. Watching the Premier League without paying? Tut tut. The police are on their way.

The story includes this line: “Two individuals, Paul Faulkner and Stephen Millington, were sentenced to a total of 16 months for watching illegal streams in 2021.”

I thought: First I’ve heard of it.

So I checked. And would you believe, it turned out to be true. Sort of. Paul Faulkner got 4 months in jail for watching illegal streams, and Stephen Millington got 12 months. However, watching wasn’t their only offence.

Stephen Millington, according to reports, was sentenced to 30 months in total after “pleading guilty to multiple fraud and copyright offences, including making and supplying software to enable illegal access to subscription content, distributing infringing film content via a dedicated server he controlled, sharing login credentials for subscription streaming services.”

Oh, “and illegally accessing content for his own use”. So he was doing a lot of illegal things, for which he got 18 months in prison, and he got an extra 12 months just for the watching, which seems slightly disproportionate, but is nonetheless true.

Paul Faulkner “was the operator of a subscription-based IPTV service that displayed football matches, entertainment and Sky channels illegally.” He pleaded guilty “to copyright and fraud offences, including accessing pirate content for his own use.”

He was openly selling access to his service on social media.

However, he was also sentenced on the point of “his own use”. Premier League director of legal services, Kevin Plumb said: “This defendant was also given a separate four-month prison sentence for simply watching the unauthorised service. If it were needed, this should dispel any misconception that watching pirate streaming services is a grey area or is not an offence in any way.”

The Premier League realise their mega-deals are in danger if no one wants to pay the broadcasters, so the clampdown is on. Does this mean the police are likely to knock on your door because you’ve bought an IPTV box or unofficial ‘firestick’? Probably not. I have been told that if these boxes show sport on a slight delay they’re not actually illegal, because it’s not live. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m sure the PL are going to concentrate more on the people selling the services rather than buying them.

But the precedent is there: people have been jailed specifically for the offence of watching illegal streams.

Be careful out there.

Twitter: @P_h_i_1

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