In what is understood to be the first conviction of its type in the UK, a man who created and built a software package which enabled illegal access to BT Sport, SKY, Netflix and other subscription television content has been sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment. The software package or, ‘build’ he created was distributed to thousands of users, enabling them to access premium television and film content without payment, and causing potential losses to the legitimate broadcast industry of millions of pounds per year.
Mr Stephen Millington, age 42, from Winsford appeared at Chester Crown Court on 30 November 2021 after pleading guilty to multiple fraud and copyright offences, including making and supplying software to enable illegal access to subscription content, distributing infringing film content via a dedicated server he controlled, sharing login credentials for subscription streaming services and illegally accessing content for his own use.
Mr Millington was the creator of software package ‘stephen-builds’ which facilitated access to subscription television and film content without payment to the rights’ holders. He also supplied details of the ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Supremacy Sports’ add-ons, which enabled users to access that content via a group he set up and managed on Facebook, in which thousands of members were given instructions and support with use of the add-ons. Mr Millington also created multiple YouTube videos which helped users install the software and add-ons and demonstrated the ability of his ‘build’ to enable the viewing of subscription television and film content.
In addition to these offences, Mr Millington shared login details for Netflix, allowing others to access his accounts.
During sentencing the Judge commented “When looking at loss in these types of cases you need to consider not only the companies that create and produce the content but also the loss to those who legitimately pay to subscribe.”
“There was sophistication in the way he created the build, clearly planned and it was also clear from the evidence that from his activities, thousands of users were provided with access to illicit content.”
The Judge recognised that Millington’s use of the unauthorised service was a distinct crime, which resulted in him receiving a separate sentence of twelve months’ imprisonment for using the service.
The value of the content unlawfully made available is estimated to be in the region of £3.8 million per year, totalling in excess of £10 million during the lifetime of the fraud.
FACT worked with BT to identify Mr Millington and referred the case to the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, who, together with Greater Manchester Police supported the prosecution, which was brought by FACT and prosecuted by Ari Alibhai of QEB Hollis Whiteman.
Inspector Chris McClellan from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit said:
“We welcome today’s sentencing and hope this sends a clear message. We will continue to work together with our partners to take robust action against those who commit fraud and copyright offences for their own criminal gain.”
FACT Chief Executive Kieron Sharp commented:
“Enabling illegal access to content is fraud; a crime with serious consequences, as shown in this sentencing. It is now clear that the courts will hold those choosing to break the law to account, and will deliver convictions that will have a significant and long-lasting effect on individuals involved.
“We thank the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, Greater Manchester Police and our members BT and Virgin Media for their work and support. FACT will continue to monitor channels used to advertise, market, sell and distribute software, add-ons, devices and streams to take action against suppliers and operators.”
Richard Crisp, Corporate Investigations Manager at BT, commented:
“Our Anti-Piracy Team regularly carries out investigations against illegal app developers and IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) suppliers. The development of add-ons that carry unauthorised channels causes a significant loss of revenue for the UK creative industries. BT will continue to work with FACT and wider industry partners to prosecute developers enabling this illegal distribution.”
A Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said:
“Piracy costs our customers and the creative industries millions of pounds every year. We take this criminal behaviour very seriously and support action which prevents the illegal distribution of copyrighted content.”