A Hartlepool man has been found guilty of selling pre-configured TV boxes enabling illegal streaming of paid-for broadcasts is facing a fine of £250,000. The case, brought by Hartlepool Council, marks a landmark step in the ongoing crackdown on the sale of TV set-top boxes modified to show paid-for services for free in the UK.
The convicted Hartlepool resident was selling modified devices for up to £1,000, Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) told IBTimes UK. Malcolm Mayes, 65, had also advertised his wares in a national magazine, targeting pubs looking to show Premier League football without paying subscription fees. These advertisements allegedly claimed that the boxes were "100% legal."
As well as the £250,000 fine – £170,000 to cover the council's legal costs and a £80,000 "Proceeds of Crime Order" – Mayes also received a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for a year. Mayes pleaded guilty to the charges brought.
"I hope this conviction sends a clear message that criminal activity doesn't pay," said Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards.
"Mr Mayes knowingly sold these illegal boxes which breached copyright law, misleading small businesses by falsely claiming that these devices were legal," said Lord Toby Harris, chair of national trading standards in the UK. "I hope this conviction sends a clear message that criminal activity doesn't pay."
Teesside Council's trading standards manager, Ian Harrison also noted his hopes that the ruling would deter other sellers. "Mr Mayes should not be seen as a Robin Hood-type character," he said. "In selling these devices he wasn't stealing from the rich to help the poor. He was stealing to make himself richer."
A spokesperson for FACT explained to IBTimes UK that these set-top boxes pre-date the 'Kodi boxes' that have grown in popularity in the UK, but operate in a similar fashion once modified content has been installed.
"Today's sentencing sends out a strong message to anyone involved in the sale of illegal IPTV boxes that crime certainly does not pay," said FACT director general, Kieron Sharp. "FACT will continue to work with our members, Trading Standards and police across the country to combat the sale of these illegal devices, which are starving our creative industries and the UK Economy."
The case follows five Kodi-related arrests made in Bolton, Bootle, Cheadle, Manchester and Rhyl in early February, as well as a high-profile case in Middlesborough where a local shop owner pleaded not guilty after being accused of facilitating the circumvention of copyright protection by selling modified 'Kodi boxes' in his store.
Correction: This article originally stated that the set-top boxes involved used Kodi software as per initial reports. This has been corrected to reflect FACT's clarification.