Over a four-year period from 2017 to 2021, 42 year-old Paul Merrell of Birmingham derived substantial income from the illegal provision of access to subscription-only streams through his business under the banner of ‘Media Maverick”.
Merrell would source customers online who, for a fee, were provided with online access enabling them to stream premium television content, including Premier League matches, without the permission of legitimate providers such as BT Sport (now TNT Sports) and Sky TV.
An investigation began in July 2019 with intelligence from UK-based Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), which pointed to Mr. Merrell’s illegitimate supply of access to premium television services. Further investigation by FACT and a thorough financial investigation conducted by Birmingham Trading Standards not only uncovered Mr. Merrell’s financial gains but also revealed Mr. Merrell’s involvement as a reseller for ‘Flawless,’ an illegal streaming service.
Several digital devices were seized in a raid against Merrell. A subsequent forensic examination by FACT provided crucial evidence for the prosecution. Evidence obtained on that raid was crucial in identifying that the ‘Flawless’ service continued to run ever after the key operators had been arrested, which helped justify the 30 years of custodial sentences given to the defendants involved in the ‘Flawless’ operation itself.
Alongside the 12-month jail sentence, the court issued a confiscation order against Mr. Merrell, seeking the recovery of £91,243.
The hearing – Birmingham City Council v PAUL MERRELL – took place at Birmingham Crown Court on February 2, 2024. Mr. Merrell pleaded guilty to the following charges and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment on each count:
- POSSESSING, SELLING OR DISTRIBUTING A DEVICE DESIGNED TO CIRCUMVENT TECHNICAL MEASURES, contrary to Section 296ZB(1)(c) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
- PROVIDING, PROMOTING, ADVERTISING OR MARKETING A SERVICE THE PURPOSE OF WHICH IS TO CIRCUMVENT TECHNICAL MEASURES, contrary to Section 296ZB(2) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
“Flawless” reseller jailed for illegal streaming operation. Press release. February 6, 2024. Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)
UK: Premier League, FACT, tout 30 years of jail terms for band of pirates – the longest ever. Article. May 30, 2023. by Steven Hawley. Piracy Monitor
Why it matters
A comment by the Judge for the Birmingham Crown Court summed it up, that Merrell knew what he was doing was unlawful:
“This was a sophisticated, persistent commercial undertaking which lasted for 4 years and would have continued had you not been stopped,” said the Judge to the offender upon sentencing. “It was designed for profit, and you were the person profiting.”
“Anyone who thinks they can get away with illegal streaming of subscription channels or pay-per-view events should take heed – next time it could be you facing a prison sentence and a hefty fine,” he declared.
“Once again a robust, collaborative investigation with law enforcement has proved to be effective in combating serious criminal activity,” said Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT. “This conviction sends a clear message that making premium televisual content available illegally is a serious crime with severe consequences.”