Huge illegal streaming business dismantled in Europe

Four individuals have been arrested and a crime group dismantled in Europe after a cross-border investigation into a large-scale illegal Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) streaming business.

The criminal operation is accused of illicitly distributing Greek, Cypriot and foreign pay TV subscriber channels, using several servers to facilitate illegal signal dissemination via subscription channels, a statement from Europol said.

The services were allegedly offered through retailers throughout Europe, distributing content from Sky, Nova and Bein Sports, and sold as a monthly illegal subscription for as little as €20 a month.

More than 1,000 channels of pirated content are believed to have been illegally broadcast to approximately half a million customers across Europe, World Intellectual Property Review reported.

The operation is believed to be one of the world’s largest illicit IPTV rackets.

“These raids, conducted by local police authorities in collaboration with Europol and our members, show the importance that law enforcement is placing on the issue of IP infringement and represent another step forward in our mission to fight piracy,” Sheila Cassells, executive director at the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA), said in a statement. “AAPA members like Irdeto and Nova are at the forefront of this fight against piracy and we will continue to take measures to support enforcement activities and push for effective and consistent legislation to aid this.”

IPTV is the delivery of content via streaming over the internet (Internet Protocol networks), and is used by entertainment company Netflix.

The illegal streaming of pirated content is believed to be increasing, and the US Trade Representative recently highlighted the emerging piracy model of illicit streaming devices – media boxes and other devices with piracy applications that allow access to unauthorised content from the internet – as a growing concern. In its Notorious Markets report, the USTR listed three infringing applications and add-ons – TVPlus, TVBrowser and KuaiKan – that connect streaming devices to illicit content.

As part of the year-long investigation into the illegal IPTV streaming business, 17 houses in Cyprus, Bulgaria and Greece were raided. In Bulgaria, 84 servers and 70 satellite receivers were seized along with decoders, computers and accounting documents, Europol said.

The investigation also uncovered machine sites that worked with the central server to relay subscriber channels.

The servers used to distribute the channels were shut down, and IP addresses hosted by a Dutch company were also deactivated.

One individual was arrested in Bulgaria and three were arrested in Cyprus.

Greek media report that the mastermind behind the business is a 47-year-old Greek national, who was operating out of Bulgaria.

Other media outlets report that nine suspects were also arrested in the Netherlands in relation to the operation.

The investigation was led by the Cypriot Police – Intellectual Property Crime Unit, with the support of the Cybercrime Division of the Greek Police, the Dutch Fiscal Investigative and Intelligence Service, the Cybercrime Unit of the Bulgarian Police, Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3), and the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance, as well as local police forces and the private sector.

“Streaming piracy is a growing problem affecting content owners, broadcasters and operators in Europe and across the world, and the enforcement activities conducted by organisations like Europol and the collaborative police organisations show the seriousness of this crime,” Mark Mulready, vice president – cybersecurity services at Irdeto, and vice president at the AAPA, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, also this year, Netflix, Amazon and several large film studios including Warner Bros and Disney, have sued the makers of an illicit streaming device called The Dragon Box, alleging copyright infringement. The plaintiffs are seeking financial damages and an injunction to prevent Dragon Media from streaming content.

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