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1 Million Pirate Set-Top Boxes Sold in the UK

Piracy has always been a major concern for the entire pay-TV ecosystem, but the advent of streaming technologies is aiding the illegal distribution of video content significantly.

A new report collating analysis from a number of sources including the UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO), FACT, City of London Police, Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), Police Scotland and Entura International was released yesterday. It estimates that more than a million illegal set-top boxes, which allow customers to stream pirated content, had been sold in the past two years.

The providers of the boxes and services generate new revenue via advertising, using banner ads and pop-ups to advertise casinos and dating sites. But they are also fertile ground for scams and malware. The report states that they could charge users subscription fees for channels they already pay for, or work with others to download malware on sites or even hijack customers' computers. The report states that estimates of these charges "range from range from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of pounds" every year.

While some customers don't realize they are buying an illegal device, several who do simply think they are getting a bargain. But DCI Pete Ratcliffe, head of PIPCU, warns the providers may not be petty criminals. Many of these are linked to larger crime syndicates with an international footprint.

The report also identified four major trends driving piracy today:

  • Kodi: The Kodi platform makes it easy for illegal add-ons to be installed, and is essentially helping drive piracy
  • Social media streaming: Streaming is increasingly done via social media platforms notably Twitter and Facebook, which also helps attract viewers
  • The dark web and bitcoin: Transactions via the dark web are enabling more people to get illegal software they can then install on set-top boxes, and to sell customer information they acquire via malware on those boxes
  • Social media is the new car-boot sale: Instead of selling illegal DVDs out of the back of a car, pirates today are using social media to market and sell their products. This makes it easier for them to reach people and more difficult to capture them
  • Piracy continues to be a challenge for the industry, with newer technological initiatives such as forensic watermarking and anti-piracy monitoring being considered. These offer hope for developed countries where law enforcement efforts are likely to be more robust. But in the developing world or in countries where international copyright is less likely to be enforced, it's not clear what can be done.

    A recent Nagra study found that if one in every four people currently accessing video illegally were to pay for it, the industry would generate an additional $7 billion in revenue.

    That's more than Netflix's entire original content production budget.

    — Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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