It looks like a real cable subscription, with familiar television shows, advertisements and even a customer-service line. But the product, known as a pirated Internet-protocol television service, is illegal.
Last year, thieves that stole live TV feeds and resold them online generated about US$1bil (RM4.23bil) in sales, according to a report from nonprofit group Digital Citizens Alliance and Nagra, a unit of antipiracy consulting firm Kudelski Group. The practice has likely ballooned during the coronavirus pandemic, as homebound Americans search for ways to stay entertained indoors, they said.
The investigation shows that the entertainment industry is still struggling to contain piracy, which is siphoning off a major chunk of revenue. It also reveals a gap in policy may be making the problem worse: Reselling stolen television channels is a misdemeanor in the US, and rarely punished, allowing content to proliferate, representatives from the groups said.
“Ultimately, the sheer scope and size of the streaming piracy ecosystem should trigger alarm among policymakers, law enforcement, consumer-protection groups, and the technology and financial-services industries, and spark a serious discussion about what efforts are needed to diminish this growing problem,” the report said.
The pirated-IPTV industry is made up of wholesalers, who steal and offer content. They can sell to consumers directly, or go through a retail network that makes the services look like legal television providers. The report estimated there are more than 3,500 such “storefronts” in the US, offering subscriptions for about US$10 (RM43) a month. Sometimes they offer devices preloaded with stolen content.
The services are advertised across social media, and they accept major credit cards. Though buyers of pirated TV services are rarely prosecuted by law enforcement, the users take on considerable risk. Sellers have installed malware on users’ devices, and have also carried channels banned in the US, like terrorist propaganda networks.
Piracy isn’t a new problem in the entertainment business, but it may be getting worse. Antitheft policies don’t yet fully address IPTV services, and even perpetrators who are caught are unlikely to spend more than a year in jail, according to the study. Additionally, people are at home more, enhancing their appeal. The groups called the industry “likely to grow”, and said it needs further scrutiny to understand its scope and the risk to legitimate entertainment companies.
The pirated-IPTV sector “has managed to avoid attracting much attention from authorities, including law enforcement, which is hampered by criminal statutes that have failed to keep up with advances in technology”, the report said. “Here is what is clear: Given its alarming presence in American households, it deserves far more scrutiny.” – Bloomberg
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