Fire TV Stick crackdown aims to end free illegal streams on Amazon gadgets — expect the police at your door

an amazon fire tv stick is pictured lying on its side on a table

Illegal Fire TV Sticks are wildly popular in the UK as they can unlock access to some of the biggest streaming services and paid-for satellite channels for a low monthly fee — or free, depending on the device

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 23/01/2024

- 04:30

Updated: 24/01/2024

- 14:42

Police forces across the UK are working with FACT to clamp down on illegal streaming boxes

  • Close to one in four people in the UK (23%) admit to streaming illegally
  • Fire TV Sticks are a popular way to access copyright material for free
  • Police will knock on doors of suspected illegal Fire Stick owners
  • Under UK law, illegal streaming can carry an unlimited fine and 5 years in prison

A fresh crackdown on illegal Fire TV Sticks could leave those streaming content for free with a hefty fine to pay — or time in prison.

While there’s nothing illegal about owning a Fire TV Stick from Amazon, these devices are often sold preloaded with access to the likes of NOW, Netflix, Disney+, and Sky Sports for free. Others require a small monthly fee to access these services, which undercuts the standard subscription fee from Sky and Netflix.

These illegal Fire TV Sticks are not sold by Amazon or endorsed by any of the broadcasters.

Using these dodgy devices to stream copyrighted broadcasts, films, and popular TV shows is a breach of the law and can carry harsh penalties in the UK.

With the wide variety of streaming services available right now and the cost-of-living crisis causing families to tighten their budgets, it’s unsurprising these illegal Fire TV Sticks remain popular. Almost one in four people in the UK (23%) have streamed content illegally in the last three months, according to research from YouGov last year.

But that figure could soon drop as police forces across the UK work with the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) to clamp down on so-called dodgy boxes and illegal streaming.

FACT claims to have seen a “significant” increase in reports of illegal streaming over the last year, suggesting more neighbours and friends are whistleblowing on the streamers they know.

Under current rules, if you’re caught watching copyright-protected material for free with one of these Fire TV Sticks, the first step from authorities will be a cease-and-desist letter through the post.

If that fails to stop you, police can make a home visit.

Section 11 of the Fraud Act 2006 permits an unlimited fine and prison sentence of up to five years for those who are found guilty of “obtaining services dishonestly”.

In a statement about the legality of streaming with these dodgy devices, FACT said it "constantly monitors the digital landscape to combat illegal streaming activities in the UK and Ireland.

"We utilise a range of methods to identify individuals engaged in unauthorised businesses that offer access to illegal streams," it adds in a statement. "One of these methods is through our partnership with Crimestoppers to make it as easy as possible to report illegal streaming, and over the past year, we have seen a significant increase in the number of reports directly linked to Fire Sticks and illegal streaming.

"These reports are then investigated by our Intelligence Unit, and followed up with a rolling programme of action which includes issuing ‘Cease and Desist’ letters and conducting nationwide ‘Knock and Talks’.

“These home visits, undertaken in conjunction with law enforcement, serve to inform individuals about their activities and the immediate need to cease and desist or face further action or prosecution. We also work in close collaboration with law enforcement to gather further evidence to actively pursue legal actions against these criminal entities."

While authorities will prioritise the criminal gangs distributing dodgy Fire TV Sticks, or those setting up the free streams of copyrighted material from Netflix, Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, and Prime Video, law enforcement hope to build a list of names of people who use these Amazon set-top boxes illegally.

It comes as a new campaign, known as Be Stream Wise, has been kickstarted with posters on the London Underground, short films on YouTube, and online adverts.

Formed by respected brands from the film, TV and sports industry – including FACT, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), Crimestoppers, Sky, British Association for Screen Entertainment (Base), Premier League, and ITV – the awareness campaign is designed to educate people about the pitfalls of illegal streams.

Illegal Fire TV Sticks and sites offering free access to copyrighted material are increasingly operated by sophisticated criminal networks, the Be Stream Wise campaign alleges. Not only that, but these websites, dodgy devices and subscriptions are also used as a way tocommit credit card fraud.

The British Association for Screen Entertainment (Base) says: “Our research has shown that those who view films, TV shows or sports fixtures through illegal streams increasingly report serious repercussions such as viruses, scams and personal data breaches.”

A recent study found that 90% of the 50 illegal streaming sites analysed were classified as risky.

There have already been a number of arrests over illegal streams in recent months across the UK. In October, 58-year-old Steven Mills was sentenced to two years behind bars for selling devices set up to stream Premier League matches without a valid Sky Sports or TNT Sports subscription.

In December, the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) made two arrests related to an encrypted Telegram channel set up to sell illegal Fire TV Sticks.

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