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Free streaming sites with half a million viewers see police crackdown

Europol announced they had dismantled an illegal streaming network in November 2022 (Getty Images/ iStock)
Europol announced they had dismantled an illegal streaming network in November 2022 (Getty Images/ iStock)

Police claim to have dismantled a multi-million dollar piracy network that served illegal free streaming sites to more than half a million European users.

Four people were arrested following a two-year operation conducted jointly by Spanish police and Europol, which was initiated by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).

Those arrested are accused of operating various websites to advertise subscription packages offering streams of thousands of live TV channels and roughly 23,000 movies and series.

Resellers in the operation were allegedly located in the UK, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain.

“The profits obtained, which amounted to around three million euros per year, were laundered by the organisation by acquiring movable and immovable property in the province of Malaga and diverting funds through Spanish companies to bank accounts located in tax havens,” Spanish police said in a statement.

“During the searches, the agents disconnected 10 administration panels – connected to 32 servers located in France, the Netherlands and Spain – where the illegal television content was hosted, and seized computer equipment, 2,800 euros in cash and two high-end vehicles valued at 180,000 euros.”

The illegal live streams of TV channels were rebroadcast to password-protected accounts of paying subscribers, in an illegal streaming operation that police claim had been running since 2012.

The latest crackdown initiated by intellectual property coalition ACE follows a similar dismantling of a piracy network in Latin America, which ran 42 free streaming sites.

A separate operation by Polizia Postale in Italy earlier this month identified 70 suspects who face multiple allegations relating to the provision and distribution of illegal streaming services.

Despite the latest police interventions, online piracy remains rampant, with free streams and torrents of films and TV series easily available online.

Search engines like Google and DuckDuckGo host results that direct people to sites where illegal streaming is accessible, while forums on websites like Reddit also offer users way of accessing free pirated content.

Police action remains primarily focussed on those hosting the content rather than those consuming it, however cyber security experts have warned that anyone viewing such streams face other risks from hackers.