In the same week that a new YouGov study claimed that five million Brits are using pirated TV streaming services and we celebrated World Intellectual Property Day, a new ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has made it clear that both selling and using multimedia or set-top streaming boxes pre-loaded with pirate add-ons is illegal.
In a landmark case called Stichting Brein v Jack Frederik Wullems, otherwise known as Filmspeler, the CJEU ruled that it is illegal to sell boxes and sticks pre-loaded with add-ons linking to illegal streaming sites. What's more, it stated that it could be illegal for consumers to use these devices to access illegal, pirated content.
The Filmspeler case is important because it tackles one of the ways in which evolving technology has enabled pirated content to be accessed by new audiences. In fact, the YouGov study suggests that 10% of the UK population (around 4.9 million adults) now has access to platforms such as pre-loaded streaming or IPTV boxes and sticks, and illegal streaming apps on smartphones and tablets, which allow them to access links to content from pirate sites.
Millions of people choosing to watch films and TV content illegally through a simple set-top device could be devastating for the entertainment world. For example, YouGov highlights the impact this type of piracy is already having on paid-for TV providers, suggesting that one in seven of those accessing pirate content in this way had already cancelled at least one legitimate paid-for service.
This impact extends far beyond paid-for TV providers, to the worlds of film and sports, with figures from SMG Insight revealing that 54% of millennials (those aged 18-24) have watched illegal streams of live sports and a third admit to regularly watching them, compared to only 4% of over-35s.
The ruling is therefore a very welcome and important step forward, both in protecting the rights of those that work hard to create brilliant films and TV shows and in reinforcing for UK consumers that choosing to engage in set-top box piracy has a direct, detrimental impact on an industry that they love. It also takes us one step closer to creating some much needed clarity around the illegalities of set-top box piracy, both in terms of selling them and using them.
This latest news, combined with other recent developments such as the court ruling banning illegal streams of Premier League matches, and marketplaces Amazon and eBay banning listings of pre-loaded devices, sends a clear message that the sale of these pre-loaded devices is against the law and consumers should be cautious about anyone trying to sell such a device to them.
We are hopeful that, by shining a spotlight on the impact of this type of piracy and the self-interest of those sellers who are profiting from it, all of these developments to tackle the supply of pirate content and the technologies that enable this, will encourage more consumers to choose legal ways to watch. Exploring the growing wealth of legal and safe ways to enjoy entertainment is the only way to safeguard the future of the UK's vibrant creative industries.