Ahead of the Christmas telly binge, thousands of UK households have been targeted by a fresh crackdown on illegal streaming. Users of so-called Kodi Boxes and other IPTV set-top devices have been sent letters from the police warning that everything they watch could be tracked. Those who are found to be breaking the law by watching premium content for free without permission from the rights-holders could be sent to prison.
This latest campaign comes from Lancashire Constabulary’s Cyber Crime Unit and follows similar letters sent out by Norfolk and Suffolk police. In total, some 7,000 people are already thought to be on the list to receive notices from police. These warning letters alert households to the possibility of up to five years behind bars if anything untoward is found when their streaming activity is monitored.
Watching illegal content online has become big business with some criminals offering “fully-loaded Kodi boxes” at a much cheaper price than subscribing to services such as Sky, Netflix or Virgin Media.
“These notices are a direct and alarming wake up call for people using illegal streams,” warned Kieron Sharp, CEO of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT). “If you use illegal streaming services you are accountable for your actions and you will be pursued. This is not a grey area and it is not worth the risk.”
The notice, one of the first of its kind aimed at consumers of illegal streaming services, also makes clear that Lancashire Constabulary will monitor subscribers’ behaviour and an investigation will be launched if the email is ignored.
Speaking about the campaign, Olivia Dodding from Lancashire Police Cyber Crime Unit said: “People who subscribe to these services might not realise that they are illegal, but the fact is they are, and we believe that the people who sell them know that. What may cost you a relatively small one-off fee, actually results in television producers and sports broadcasters losing millions of pounds which affects their ability to make and show sports events and entertainments series, which many of us enjoy watching.
“Anyone who subscribes to IPTV or any other illegal streaming service should stop now to avoid facing prosecutions themselves.”
It’s worth remembering that Kodi itself is not actually illegal and has distanced itself from the apps – known as Add-Ons – that enable streaming content without permission. However, due to its open-source nature, the platform can be easily adapted with users then able to watch a host of sports, movies and entertainment without paying for it.
There are plenty of people trying to cash-in on the Kodi brand by selling so-called “Kodi boxes” on online auction sites and retailers. These are often advertised as “official” devices and come with the promise of allowing those who buy them full access to films, entertainment and sports without having to pay anything extra.
People who bought these devices have complained about their credit card information being used by fraudsters, x-rated adult content appearing alongside animated family films in the menu due to a lack of parental controls, as well as electrical faults.
In recent months, Kodi has become much more vocal about the fact that it has nothing to do these devices nor does it condone their use.
“One important point of note is that whilst Team Kodi produces media centre software, one thing that we do not provide is actual media,” Kodi said. “We don’t make films, television channels or programmes, nor do we directly provide them as part of the software package that we distribute.
“Similarly, we do not produce hardware – there is no “Kodi Box” that’s supplied by us. This is a key fact, as there are many third party hardware suppliers out there who do supply such boxes, which either come pre-loaded with Kodi on them or onto which it can be loaded by the end user.
“Kodi also does not provide any media itself. Users must provide their own content or manually point Kodi to third party online services. The Kodi project does not provide any support for bootleg video content.”