Europol nabs illegal crypto streaming service

In the midst of the pandemic, Europol successfully seized an illegal crypto streaming service with over two million users

Tablet with streaming services
The unnamed streaming service managed to intercept content from Netflix, Amazon, and other sites and redistribute it on their own platforms

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) has uncovered and seized a bootleg streaming service with over two million users. The platform, which was supported with its very own customer service team, earned over €15 million ($17 million) through bank transfers and cryptocurrency.

The illegal streaming site has been accused of pirating over 40,000 movies, documentaries and TV programmes from Amazon, Netflix and other legitimate streaming services. These criminal operations continued for over five years before it was captured by Europol.

Amidst the ill-gotten plunder, the authorities also found exotic cars, property, and over €4.8 million ($5.4 million) in cryptocurrencies. In addition, officials froze a further €1.1 million ($1.2 million) across various bank accounts.

The illegal crypto streaming service mainly operated in Spain. It used other websites in Europe as well as in developing countries to give their clients access to TV channels at more affordable rates.

The European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation explained operators illegally tapped into the signal of copyright holders and then used computer servers to gain access to content from legally operating broadcast enterprises. From there, they illegally redistributed the content they managed to intercept.

The bust is timely, occurring as millions seek refuge online in the midst of lockdowns due to coronavirus. This has bolstered the bottom lines of entertainment services and legitimate streaming apps such as Netflix, which has gained 15 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 alone.

The limitations in movement, loss of jobs and the need for entertainment for many people around the world may be factors that played into the increase of subscribers.

However, the pandemic has also prompted a significant rise in piracy. According to Muso, an anti=piracy firm, visits to illegal piracy sites had skyrocketed by more than 40% in the US last March.

Experts say that streaming services may decide to increase their costs in response to the increase in content swiping.

Tim Mulligan, a Media Research analyst, told Bloomberg that “the background threat of piracy means that the subscription video-on-demand services will have the ongoing threat of piracy as a pricing factor.”

The price hike, ironically, may initiate a vicious cycle where more people choose to seek cheaper (and in many cases, illegal) alternatives.

Some believe that blockchain may hold the answer to this dilemma. Several ventures are looking at applying blockchain’s immutable faculties to anti-piracy systems. For example, the Content Blockchain Project, which utilises an open standard through a decentralized blockchain ecosystem to hunt pirated content.

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