IPO report states increase in illegal streaming devices as one of the emerging themes surrounding digital copyright infringement
The IP Crime and Enforcement Report 2016/7 has cited illegal streaming devices, commonly known as 'set-top' boxes, as one of the biggest challenges for leading intellectual property protection organisations, including the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT).
A set-top box is a device that enables a user to stream content onto a television screen or other display device. A popular type of set-top box is the 'Kodi' box. In their legitimate form, Kodi boxes present no problems; however, issues arise when developers sell third-party add-ons and apps, which allow the user to access copyright infringing material. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has estimated that over one million set-top boxes have been sold in the UK over the last two years. Given the accessibility and low costs of these boxes, it is not surprising to learn that 70% of FACT's active ongoing cases relate to illicit streaming devices.
The ongoing fight against digital copyright infringement has recently been bolstered by the Digital Economy Act 2017 (the Act), which received royal assent in April 2017. Of particular importance is S32 of the Act, which introduces tougher sentence for individuals infringing copyright. S32, which is due to come into force on 1 October 2017, significantly increases maximum imprisonment sentences for online pirates, from two to ten years. Although S32 will impose harsher sanctions, it is thought that the main focus will be on individuals who are 'making a business' out of selling illegal content ie those selling Kodi boxes with pre-loaded material.
Companies are now taking steps to combat digital copyright infringement. For example, Amazon has now banned "fully loaded" set-top boxes from being sold on their website. In July 2017, the Premier League obtained an injunction from the High Court, which requires internet services providers to block access to any services (including Kodi boxes) that are illegally streaming its games. The seriousness of illegal downloading was further reiterated by the Court of Appeal in R v Wayne Evans  1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 56. In this matter, the Court of Appeal noted the serious effects that digital copyright infringement can have on the entertainment industry and determined that deterrent sentences are appropriate for such cases.
It is also clear that the Government and other leading intellectual property organisations are all committed to raising awareness regarding the continuing rise in digital piracy. For example, the IPO, FACT, City of London Police, Police Scotland and Entura International have collaborated to produce the publication "Cracking Down on Digital Piracy", a report aimed at educating the public about digital piracy.
It is evident that set-top boxes remain one of the biggest concerns for the IPO. Only time will tell how effective S32 will be in practice; nevertheless, its implementation and ongoing awareness are both active steps to combating digital piracy.