UK: FACT investigation exposes Fire Stick pirate, leads to suspended sentence and unpaid work

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On June 4, 2024, the Liverpool Crown Court handed down a two-year suspended sentence to an individual who pleaded guilty to charges of promoting and selling illegally modified streaming devices; culminating a two-year law enforcement process. It was estimated that the offender made more than £130,000, defrauding content owners of over half a million pounds.

In July 2022, the UK anti-piracy organization FACT had discovered that an individual was actively promoting an illegal IPTV subscription service on Facebook. Further forensic investigation that revealed the offender was selling pre-configured Fire TV devices at bargain prices; providing illegal access to premium sports, movie and TV programming.

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On July 4th, 2023, Merseyside Police executed a search warrant at the residence of Kevin James O’Donnell, a 41 year-old resident of Liverpool. O’Donnell was arrested, interviewed, and released under investigation pending further inquiries. The arrest resulted in the seizure of many digital devices, including computers, laptops, mobile phones and modified Fire Sticks.

Operating under the alias ‘Kevo James’, his account boasted over 3,600 members and was used as a platform to sell modified Firesticks. These devices were illicitly configured to provide unauthorised access to sports, television channels, and movie content, bypassing legitimate providers such as Sky and TNT Sports and significantly undermining their commercial interests.

Further forensic examination by FACT revealed that the sale of these premium packages, priced between £40 – £85 for a 12-month contract, were facilitated through Facebook direct messaging or WhatsApp and provided delivery services by post or in person.

O’Donnell’s offenses included “Providing, promoting and marketing in the course of a business, a service designed to circumvent technological measures, under the UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and  for supplying articles (Amazon Fire Stick devices) for use in fraud, under the Fraud Act of 2006; knowing that they were “designed or adapted for use in the course of or in connection with fraud.”

In addition to the suspended two year jail sentence, O’Donnell must perform 25 days rehabilitation activity and 150 hours of unpaid work.

Further reading

Liverpool man sentenced for illegal Firestick operation.  Press release. June 4, 2024. Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)

Why it matters

“Illegal streaming is far from a victimless crime, and as well as the impact it has on businesses and content creators, it essentially means that legitimate subscribers pay for those who illegally access such services,” commented Merseyside Detective Inspector Steve Frame. “Illegal streams also increase the risk of users receiving malware, which can put them at increased risk of falling victim to Computer Misuse Act offences,” he said.

“The message is very clear,” adds Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT. “If you sell a device that provides access to content that is not licensed to you or owned by you, you could face criminal investigation, prosecution, and possible conviction. This case highlights the importance of protecting legitimate providers as well as the significant impact that coordinated law enforcement efforts can have on combating digital piracy,” he said.

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