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“Lifetime” Pirate IPTV Boxes Freely Available on Amazon Cost Men $1.25m

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How easy is it to buy a pirate IPTV device with a built-in subscription, offering thousands of TV channels, PPV events, video on demand, even catch-up TV? Let's rephrase that: what's Amazon's estimated delivery time for Tanggula, vSeeBox, and Superbox devices? Whether tomorrow or next week, two men who sold exactly the same devices to their own customers won't be able to compete after being hit with a $1.25m judgment in the United States.

Those setting out to buy a pirate IPTV device, perhaps even for the first time, have broadly three options.

The first is to buy a ‘blank’ Android device from a retailer before navigating a minefield they don’t understand, hoping to buy a pirate subscription without getting ripped off.

A second and increasingly popular option is to buy a device with an embedded subscription, either from a friend, a friend-of-a-friend, or from those prepared to sell them via websites or openly on social media.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

According to a lawsuit filed by DISH Network and Sling TV in May, targeting California residents Marcelino Padilla and Danny Contreras, Facebook was the sales platform of choice. Convenient for both sellers and buyers, platforms like Facebook are increasingly used for pirate IPTV sales. For DISH investigators, that could be seen as a positive.

The complaint alleged that Padilla and Conteras violated the companies’ rights under the DMCA by ‘trafficking’ in illicit streaming services which, at least in part, provided content illegally obtained from their legal streaming services.

The fact these devices were sold under Padilla’s real name, alongside photographs of large boxes containing set-top boxes ready for sale, seems unnecessarily risky in the current climate. But here we are.

Demonstrating large sales reduces sales longer term

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea to spend their evenings studying the intricacies of copyright law, but Omi in a Hellcat’s fate could hardly be described as inaccessible.

Growing Interest in Certain Devices

Lawsuits like this are certainly nothing new. DISH and Sling have been filing not dissimilar complaints for several years while demanding damages under the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA.

More recently, however, there has been an uptick in lawsuits against individuals selling a particular type of set-top device. Their characteristics make them both easy to sell and attractive to buyers.

In its complaint, DISH focuses on the ‘services’ but in reality, those services are inseparable from the devices that customers physically buy.

“Defendants sell the Services for a one-time cost of approximately $350.00. Padilla’s Facebook posts emphasize that after the initial payment there are ‘no monthly fees’ (unlike legitimate pay-television services such as the services provided by Plaintiffs that charge a monthly subscription fee),” DISH notes.

“Padilla’s advertising places an emphasis on converting users from legitimate subscription-based television services such as those provided by Plaintiffs, stating for example ‘no monthly fees’ and ‘Cut the cord forever’.”

One Upfront Outlay, No Monthly Subscription

The brands of the devices sold by the defendants – Tanggula, vSeeBox and SuperBox – have become increasingly well known over the past couple of years. The Facebook groups through which they were offered – Vsee, Super Box, Superbox Support & Sales, Superbox Support, and Tanggula TV Box – leave little to the imagination.

At $350 per unit, pricing is certainly steep when compared to other similarly-powered devices available on the market. However, there’s no requirement with these broadly similar set-top boxes to take out a separate IPTV subscription that needs to be renewed each month.

Buyers simply need to follow a few basic instructions (those below come from a reseller’s advertising) and their device is instantly activated with almost all content imaginable.

Please activate the Tanggula box before running TangTV first time. Go to the “TAStore” (Homepage–>APP–>TAStore) App, click “Activation” then click “Tang TV” and “Tars TV” to download. You can download Tang TV directly from the “TAStore” app without downloading through links. Including after factory reset, they can also download Tang TV directly in “TAStore”

Devices with similar functionality under different branding managed to cause a public scandal in Taiwan back in 2021. At a California court last Friday, the claimed 500 set-top boxes sold by Padilla theoretically cost him roughly 10 times their cost price in damages.

Final Judgment and Injunction

In a judgment dated July 5, 2024, the court found the defendants liable for violations of the DMCA’s section 1201(a)(2), for trafficking in illegal streaming services accessed via the vSeeBox and Tanggula set-top devices. Damages were calculated at $2,500 under section 1203(c)(3)(A) for each of the 500 services/devices sold by Padilla.

While no damages were applied to Danny Contreras, damages against Padilla amounted to a cool $1,250,000, at least on paper. The terms of the judgment and accompanying injunction were reached by agreement and while the plaintiffs will have few qualms about inflicting considerable pain, it’s possible that information will play some part in keeping payable damages down.

Meanwhile, the terms of the injunction strongly suggest that those looking for a pre-loaded set-top box in California will now have to look elsewhere. That provides a little food for thought.

Next Day Delivery?

The devices sold by Padilla are not especially rare or indeed anything particularly special. The built-in subscription sets them apart from the majority of devices on the market and that can be a big plus for some people.

That they can be easily purchased from Amazon in the United States, Canada, the UK, and most countries in Europe, may come as more of a surprise, however.

In light of Padilla’s $1.25m bill, these devices being sold on Amazon may seem a little jarring; one rule for them and another for everyone else, perhaps.

In reality, there are indeed different rules and here, various technical legal matters aside, everything can be boiled down to intent.

While the devices are simply being sold on Amazon, arguably they’re not illegal until the user activates the subscription package. If we compare that to the sales in California, the same might be true; at least if everything hadn’t been undermined by the not insignificant matter of the devices being deliberately and openly sold for infringing purposes.

Finally, the question of the subscription – is it really for a lifetime? It probably all depends on what ‘lifetime’ means and that part rarely gets clarified. In fact, a YouTuber recently revealed he was gifted similar devices in exchange for a review, but things didn’t go entirely to plan.

After encountering network activity that caused him alarm, his review wasn’t exactly glowing. As a thank you, the devices he was gifted were remotely disabled. A disappointing outcome but on the plus side, the network shenanigans stopped.
 
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