For as long as piracy and counterfeiting have existed, there have been claims that groups engaged in the practices have links to other, more serious crimes.
Over the past couple of decades the claims have persisted but even the most serious legal cases (ones for which people have been jailed for many years) have failed to turn up evidence that people running pirate sites, services, and similar platforms are connected to even more serious crimes.
This week, however, following news from FACT that it had targeted numerous IPTV sellers and providers in the UK, Lesley Donovan – the National Coordinator for the multi-agency Government Agency Intelligence Network (GAIN) – repeated similar claims.
Referencing even the smaller players – those who re-sell access to larger IPTV providers – Donovan said that they are contributing to what many people consider to be some of the most serious crimes.
“This type of activity is also often a cog in a larger criminal machine, often ultimately funding drugs, weapons and people trafficking,” Donovan said.
Clearly, most members of the general public wouldn’t want to feel that they’re funding drug supply, helping to encourage the flow of weapons, or contributing to the suffering of those trafficked illegally across or even within borders.
However, these claims are rarely (if ever) backed up with references to cases where people can see evidence of that happening for themselves in Internet cases. And with the word “often” being used twice in the GAIN statement, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s commonplace.
Several weeks ago, while in discussion with the operator of an IPTV service based in Europe, this very topic raised its head. Our contact, while acknowledging that what goes on the IPTV space isn’t exactly legal, bemoaned claims that links to wider crime are rampant.
“The truth is that most IPTV services that I know of only do IPTV. The other half have normal jobs that they do day in, day out,” he explained.
Indeed, TF is informed from several sources that IT professionals, both former and current (and particularly those in the networking space), have close interests in supplying IPTV services to the public. “A natural progression and salary supplement,” is how one described it recently.
Interestingly, one provider spoke of how supplying IPTV to the public has actually become an alternative option for those who may have become involved in other types of crime. Nevertheless, gun-running and people trafficking aren’t part of the equation.
“I’m not saying they are whiter than white but they certainly aren’t some mobster gangsters involved in human trafficking,” he said.
Another thing that seems to have irritated IPTV suppliers is the claim by anti-piracy groups that members of the public open themselves up to being stolen from when they deal with ‘pirate’ IPTV providers.
It’s often claimed that handing over personal information along with payment details can result in people being deprived of their cash through ancillary fraudulent transactions. But again, this is something rarely reported in public by any alleged victims, or backed up by evidence from law enforcement.
“Nobody is forced to give real details when signing up [to an IPTV service]. In fact we don’t care what name or address you put as we aren’t going verify the information,” one source told TF.
“We use third-party gateways for payment such as PayPal or Stripe and so on, so none of us ever see card details [enabling us to] commit fraud.”
Of course, it could also be argued that in common with the thus-far unsubstantiated claims that IPTV providers are involved in more serious crime, the claims of these providers are also without supporting evidence.
Nevertheless, they seem keen to distance themselves from the claims and in the main, approached us first to dispel the narrative they’re involved in anything other than the supply of illegal streams.
In the interim, it will be for the public to decide who to believe and a court case showing otherwise to run its course and reveal if such connections are both real and substantiated. Until then, the business will remain in the shadows, with both claims and counterclaims up for debate.
Finally, we spoke to one lower-tier reseller and asked him about the recent involvement of organized crime units and whether “organized crime” was an accurate description of his reseller sideline.
“I’ve got about 250 customers,” he told TF. “It’s too many for me really and if it is crime it’s VERY disorganized. So no.”