Italy: Fraud unit shuts down 545 Telegram channels for illegal distribution

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The Special Privacy Protection and Technological Fraud Unit of the Guardia di Finanza of Rome seized 545 Telegram messaging accounts in October, used to distribute intellectual property illegally. ┬áMore than 430,000 subscribed users were given full access – without any form of subscription or payment – to editorial content protected by copyright.

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The agency also conducted searches against 8 suspects residing in Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Campania, who were suspected of being the administrators of the social channels.

The investigations, coordinated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Court of Milan, originated from a complaint initially presented by the Order of Journalists of Lombardy, with which the illegal online distribution of copies of national newspapers and magazines was reported.

Publishing as well as video

The investigations carried out by the specialists of the Fiamme Gialle led to the identification of a much wider illegal network than the one envisaged in the complaint, allowing to unmask a consolidated system of unauthorized sharing and dissemination not only of newspapers and magazines published by the main editorial groups Italians but also television schedules, TV series and other paid entertainment content distributed via the internet by the major streaming platforms.

To reconstruct the modus operandi and, in particular, to identify the subjects believed to be involved in the commission of the offenses for which it is investigated, officers of the Special Unit resorted to innovative investigative methods to trace the managers who shielded themselves behind aliases and invented names.

There were two distinct remuneration mechanisms:

  • “Affiliation”, or publication of links referring to e-commerce sites via Telegram channels, which returned to the organizers a percentage of the purchases concluded through the use of the hypertext links published, and,
  • “Sponsorship”, through special advertising banners on these illicit Telegram channels, upon payment of a fee.

The investigations carried out by the Special Unit for the Protection of Privacy and Technological Frauds – not digital piracy – were part of the broader presidential device that the Guardia di Finanza puts in place alongside that of “physical piracy”.

Read the original press release by the Guardia di Finanza, Italy, authorized by the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office, in compliance with the provisions of Legislative Decree no. 188/2021.

Why it matters

“(The Telegram operation) makes us aware of an underground phenomenon of important dimensions with decisive consequences for the future of the cultural content industry,” said┬áthe President of FAPAV (Italy’s Federation for the Protection of the Audiovisual and Multimedia Content Industries).

“For the audiovisual sector alone, we are talking about 1.7 billion euros in damage to the country system and 9400 jobs at risk. It is essential not to let your guard down and the hope is that the new Parliament will be able to resume as soon as possible the process started by the previous legislature regarding the new anti-piracy law.”

The violation of intellectual property rights constitutes an extremely lucrative illegal activity for criminal organizations and generates considerable damage to the legal economy. It should be noted that the criminal proceedings are still in the preliminary investigations phase and that the responsibility of the suspects will be definitively ascertained only in the event of an irrevocable sentence of conviction.

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