An individual behind a sophisticated illegal streaming service which showed Premier League matches has been jailed today for two and a half years. Steven Mills, 58, ran an organization which sold ‘Firesticks’ (Amazon Fire TV devices in a USB form-factor) via a closed Facebook group and claimed to have more than 30,000 subscribers. Trading under the names Pikabox and Eyepeeteevee, the piracy operation received more than £1 million over five years.
Mills had pleaded guilty to multiple fraud offences before the Shrewsbury Crown Court in June. His conviction and sentencing followed a joint investigation by the Premier League, West Mercia Police, and anti-piracy organization FACT.
The service was primarily provided to UK-based customers and was also sold to a network of resellers, who also are under investigation. Programming was distributed via VPN. Tutorial videos which supported his customers to access the illegal content were also available.
Collaboration was key
“This was a great example of partners from law enforcement and industry coming together to have a profound effect on this type of criminality,” said Detective Inspector Matt McNelis, Senior Investigating Officer, West Mercia Police. “It’s clear that no single agency alone can be as effective as closely coordinated teams working towards achieving an objective.
“The investigation, run by the Force Cyber Crime Unit, utilised sensitive tactics to increase the preventative messaging during the arrest phase before following up again with FACT to disrupt and educate others linked to Mills earlier this year,” he added.
How it worked
The service provided customers with a custom-developed app and streaming devices to view a wide range of sports and entertainment content. Mills took significant steps to disguise his activity from detection including posting bundles of cash to suppliers and operating under a number of aliases.
Mills was also convicted of a separate offense for watching the illegal content that he was supplying to others. The court recognized that Mills’ own use of the unauthorized service was a distinct crime in itself. He received a separate prison sentence for that second offense.
Man Jailed for Selling Illegal firesticks Showing Premier League Matches. Press release. October 10, 2023. Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT)
UK: Taking a ‘retail’ approach to anti-piracy, backed by police agency collaboration. Article. by Steven Hawley. January 10, 2023. Piracy Monitor
Why it matters
While industry stake-holders and law enforcement agencies have become adept at collaboration, it’s unsettling that mainstream consumer video devices can be easily found in online marketplaces, alongside instuctions about how to break and program them with infringing content and services. This situation continues today via Amazon, where consumers can find Fire TV devices alongside such instructions in the same search result.