Illegal streamers sent to prison and others arrested in major piracy crackdown

Illicit streaming sites  received more than 140 billion visits in 2023  (iStock)
Illicit streaming sites received more than 140 billion visits in 2023 (iStock)

A major crackdown on online piracy has seen a series of arrests in the UK, as well as prison sentences handed to people found guilty of operating illegal streaming operations.

One arrest in Nottingham this week saw a 42-year-old man taken into custody after police believed him to be involved in the provision of illegal streams of Sky television content.

In Stockton-on-Tees, a 52-year-old man was also arrested under suspicion of being involved in a separate illegal streaming operation first investigated by the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit.

Earlier this month, Merseyside Police Cyber Crime Unit announced that a 41-year-old man from Liverpool had been handed a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to charges of promoting and selling illegally modified Amazon Fire Sticks that gave users access to premium film and TV content, as well as live football matches.

Last week, Michael Hornung,40, from Greater Manchester was sentenced to four years and nine months in jail for advertising and selling specially-configured set-top boxes that gave viewers access to illegal streaming content.

“These cases highlight the importance of protecting legitimate providers, as well as the significant impact that coordinated law enforcement efforts can have on combating digital piracy,” said Kieron Sharp, CEO of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).

“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 conviction.”

Several recent studies have shown online piracy to be on the rise in the UK and throughout Europe in recent years, with financial hardships, increased subscription fees, and the increasingly fractured streaming space cited as factors in the trend.

Earlier this year, figures from the anti-piracy platform Muso and consultancy firm Kearney revealed that there were an estimated 141 billion visits to video piracy sites in 2023, increasing by 12 per cent since 2019.

“Video content piracy is a systemic problem responsible for $75 billion per year in lost revenue for media companies – last year saw an average 1.5 pirate streams per month for every man, woman and child on the planet,” Christophe Firth, a partner at Kearney, told The Independent.

“Beyond this direct financial revenue leakage, there are broader implications. For example, piracy innovations from smaller producers who struggle to monetise their IP and hinders job creation across the sector. Piracy can also call into question governments’ ability to deal with IP infringement, which can then deter foreign investment.”