Police plan raids to smash pay TV piracy racket

Tim Barlass -Apr 1, 2012

Police are planning nine raids - including in Melbourne - in the war on the illegal distribution of pirated pay TV content, a blackmarket industry believed to be worth up to $25,000 a week.

Michael Speck, a manager at the anti-piracy company Brilliant Digital Entertainment, which has worked for several global pay TV firms, said the police raids were planned in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Mr Speck has been closely involved with previous raids.

The development follows reports last week in The Australian Financial Review, published by Fairfax Media, and on the BBC's Panorama, which said a former News Corp subsidiary called NDS targeted rival pay TV operators.

It said Operational Security, a group of former police and intelligence officers within NDS, obtained the smartcards of rival pay TV operators in the UK and Australia, cracked their code then distributed them to interfere with market forces.

News Corp has rejected the claims.

Pirated cards available ''down the pub'' for about $100 were popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s because they were easy to clone and the code easy to crack.

But investigators say the technology has moved on, with unscrupulous operators downloading content, storing it and then sending it overseas ''beyond the law'' for distribution. Consumers can then, through the purchase of a ''conditional access device'' - a set-top box or USB memory stick - decode the material to get pirated material from more than than 1000 TV channels.

Even major events such as soccer finals or the Formula One Grand Prix can be made available just after screening. Mr Speck, a former head of Music Industry Piracy Investigations, an Australian company, said: ''Here's the rub. It generally involves setting up a direct debit, so not only do they know the details of your computer system and your computer's location by way of its IP address, but also they would have access to your banking details.

''You start the relationship knowing that they are international criminals, and by giving them your personal details to save a few bucks on pay TV. It is fraught with danger at any number of levels. You don't have any guarantee the service is going to last for a long time or that they are not going to misuse your computer details or your banking details.''

Mr Speck said that pay TV pirates had no fear of prosecution from either the copyright owners or the law enforcement agencies.

A brief court hearing was held last week in Burwood Local Court, Sydney, following a raid in Sydney's inner western suburb of Ashfield, in which Mr Speck was involved. The raid was sparked by TVB Group, a Chinese-language content giant that hired Mr Speck's private investigation firm, which has offices in Sydney, to probe the alleged piracy.

Qun Qiu, 42, of Lane Cove North, has been charged with possessing a device with intent to use it to make and distribute copies of a work with intent to trade or make a profit. Qiu could face a $60,000 fine for each recording device, and five years jail.

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