The issues there were a little more straight forward than today because most of the definitions of copyright infringement involve downloading, copying or stealing licensed material. Just like the person who makes pirated copies of DVDs, it's relatively simple to prosecute these people using criminal law because there is a theft and physical evidence.
However now it's a little more complicated simply because of the way the internet has developed. Speeds have generally increased greatly now and the days of downloading a film over a few hours (or even days) have long gone. In fact most of us have internet connections that can happily stream a movie while we watch it. Which has enabled a previously little known media streaming software called Kodi to become very popular indeed.
Kodi can be installed on all sorts of devices and is popular particular on android based media boxes. Although Kodi is simply an open source media player which started life called XBMC (Xbox Media Center)
, it's adaptability and the hundreds of available plugins have put it in the center of home entertainment for millions of people.
In thousands of homes across the world, a little media streaming box or Fire stick loaded with Kodi and some associated plugins is busily streaming copyrighted material directly to their TV sets. These devices can even be bought preloaded and preconfigured so no technical knowledge is required, and effectively have the ability to stream all sorts of subscription services for free. There are plugins for streaming Sky TV, Virgin, BT and Netflix to name but a few - the combined costs of these subscriptions would be over a hundred pounds a month so you can see the attraction and you don't need to use a VPN.
It's clearly damaging the companies like Sky who pay billions in licensing deals for everything from Sports to movies. However the legal implications at least against the end user are unclear, because people are simply viewing a video stream of the content and not downloading then it's difficult to prosecute them. Despite over 50% of the investigations by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) being concerned with Kodi there are still very few prosecutions.
Brexit May Change Legal Situation
The primary reason users of these boxes cannot be directly prosecuted is due to a ruling by the European Court of Justice. It stated that no individual can be prosecuted for looking at copyrighted material online as per Article 5.1 of the EU Copyright Directive. It basically states that users aren't directly downloading but just watching on their screen which doesn't require the permission of the copyright holders.
Morally of course, it's difficult to argue that it's not theft but as yet our legal framework hasn't quite caught up with this situation. It wouldn't take much modification of the copyright legislation to make using Kodi to watch Sky for free illegal and this is expected to happen in the next few months. The European laws currently protecting people will obviously have little effect when Britain leaves the European Union anyway. It's probably time to turn that Kodi box off or at least use a VPN service to hide what you're doing with it!