Running pirate streaming platforms, such as now ubiquitous IPTV services currently available all over the Internet, is undoubtedly a profitable proposition for gray and black-market entrepreneurs.
For three men in the UK, however, that financial success has come with a hefty price tag attached.
According to information provided by the Premier League, three men from the UK were jailed yesterday for a total of 17 years for running streaming operations that defrauded the world famous soccer league.
After a four-week trial at Warwick Crown Court, Steven King – the scheme’s ‘mastermind’ – was sentenced to seven years and four months in jail. Accomplice Paul Rolston was imprisoned for six years and four months, while Daniel Malone received three years and three months behind bars.
The men offered illegal subscription packages to more than 1,000 pubs, clubs and homes throughout England and Wales, via their websites DreamBoxTV.co.uk and YourFootie.com. The companies behind these sites traded under the names Dreambox (an unincorporated entity), Dreambox TV Limited, and Digital Switchover Limited.
According to the Premier League, the defendants generated in excess of £5 million over ten years of operation. Data held by Companies House shows that Digital Switchover Limited was incorporated in 2008, with Dreambox TV Limited trading since 2012. Steven King is listed as the sole director of both businesses.
“The operation used a range of technologies to continue their fraud over the course of a decade,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“Most recently, the defendants engaged various third parties located in the UK and across Europe to create illegal broadcast streams, which they then sold on to their customers. Over the course of the conspiracy, premium content from more than 20 broadcasters around the world was fraudulently obtained and supplied by the defendants.”
One of the suppliers to the defendants was Terry O’Reilly, who received a four-year prison sentence in 2016 on two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud after standing accused of selling 1,200 illegal streaming devices.
When handing down some of the toughest sentences ever seen in the UK for similar offenses, the Judge was said to have described the operation as a “dishonest, dodgy business”. According to the Premier League, the defendants’ attempts to frustrate the investigation (including via logo-blocking) was an “aggravating factor” which contributed to their lengthy punishments.
“Today’s decision has provided further evidence that the law will catch up with companies and individuals that defraud rights owners and breach copyright,” said Premier League Director of Legal Services, Kevin Plumb.
“The custodial sentences issued here reflect the seriousness and the scale of the crimes. Using these services is unlawful and fans should be aware that when they do so they enter into agreements with illegal businesses. They also risk being victims of fraud or identity theft by handing over personal data and financial details.”
Kieron Sharpe, director at the Federation Against Copyright Theft, weighed in with similar warnings.
“The result of this case demonstrates that the illegal streaming of, and illegal access to, Premier League football is a serious crime. This was a criminal enterprise whose only function was to make money from defrauding the Premier League and the legitimate broadcasters,” Sharpe said.
“For those people using services such as this, do not think that this is a grey area – it is not, it is breaking the law. Do not think it is a victimless crime – it is not, it puts thousands of ordinary peoples’ jobs at risk. Do not think that the internet provides anonymity – it does not.”
After the ruling was made public, TorrentFreak sought comment from several other players offering similar IPTV services to the public in the UK but just one agreed to comment.
“Sharpe is right, what we’re doing is illegal. He has to ask himself why people keep coming to us. Fred Bloggs [a reference to the public] buys a line [reference to a subscription] because it’s all the money they have left after working in a factory all week,” one supplier said, on condition of anonymity.
“Selling to pubs is stupid. Sky and BT are sniffing round all the time and it’s only a question of time before a landlord tells them where they bought their line from. Oh and before you go, running everything through a company with your real name is retarded.”
While the supplier wouldn’t say whether the hefty sentences handed down would act as a deterrent to him, he was very interested to learn where the £5 million went and whether any of it (or other property) would be confiscated through the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
TorrentFreak asked the question to the Premier League and we’ll update this article when we receive a response.