Video piracy doesn’t pay. That’s what Europol told a global streaming video piracy operation with more than 2 million subscribers. The five-year-old piracy firm was providing access to unlicensed streaming content to subscribers in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and laundering the proceeds from subscriber revenue, reports Digital TV Europe. Europol said the operation offered more than 40,000 TV channels, movies, documentaries and digital content, accessed online via an international network of servers. The streaming video piracy operation generated an estimated profit of €15 million (approximately $16.95 million in U.S. dollars).
Led by the Policía Nacional in Spain, the sting took place on June 3 with a coordinated effort between law enforcement agencies in Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. The agencies searched 15 hours, arrested 11 suspects (four in Spain, one in Germany, three in Sweden and three in Denmark), and questioned another 16 suspects in their involvement.
As a result of the sting operation, the police agencies seized €4.8 million (approximately $5.4 million in U.S. dollars), including:
- Properties valued at more than €2 million
- Four cars worth approximately €500,000
- Luxury watches, cash, cryptocurrency and electronic gear
In addition, the agencies froze 11 bank accounts valued at €1.1 million (approximately $1.24 million in U.S. dollars), and they disconnected 50 IP addresses and some of the online infrastructure used to run the operation.
According to a statement by Europol, the Spanish National Police began investigating the video piracy criminal network in 2019. The distribution of the streaming content, which is a violation of intellectual property rights, was set up through Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and was managed primarily from Spain. The attraction to subscribers was competitive pricing. The network even operated its own customer service platform to offer technical assistance and manage quality control.
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Accessing content illegally is on the rise
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the usage of illegal content to increase. A report by ABI Research estimates that 17% of worldwide streaming video viewers stream their content illegally. This hurts content producers, legitimate streaming video providers, and pay TV operators as well.
“Despite these efforts to maintain and gain subscribers, service providers are increasingly challenged by content piracy,” said Khin Sandi Lynn, Industry Analyst at ABI Research. “In fact, there is a bounty of ways to illegally view video content, which is causing service providers to not only lose millions of subscribers each year, but also lose billions in potential revenue.”
Live streaming and live sports are among the industries hardest hit. They are considered a high piracy risk in Europe and, last year alone, service providers lost an estimated €941 million (approximately $1.1 billion in U.S. dollars). ABI Research estimates that, in North America, 7.5 million households are accessing content illegally, which costs providers an estimated $4 billion annually.
“Password and credential sharing, file sharing over the internet, and purchasing illegal streaming boxes are just a few ways consumers are currently pillaging video content,” Lynn said.
Borrowing someone’s Netflix password or otherwise accessing content illegal is a much bigger deal than it seems. While it might be saving a particular consumer $6 to $15 a month, it is costing content creators, producers and all of the supporting industries billions of dollars. That is money they could have used to invest in new content. Their content is no less valuable because it is intellectual property versus tangible property like a TV or a car. We are glad to see that law enforcement agencies around the world take this seriously. That type of support is needed, especially with streaming video piracy on the rise.