Monday, April 15 2024

Birmingham Crown Court, February 2, 2024.

Paul Merrell, a 42-year-old resident of Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for advertising and selling illegal IPTV services. Alongside this sentence, the court has issued a confiscation order against Mr. Merrell, seeking the recovery of £91,243. 

The conviction was the result of a joint investigation by FACT and Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team.

Over a four-year period, from 2017 to 2021, Mr Merrell derived a substantial income from the illegal provision of access to subscription-only streams through his business under the banner of ‘Media Maverick”. He would source customers online who, for a fee, were provided with online access enabling them to stream premium television content, including Premier League matches, without the permission of legitimate providers such as BT Sport (now TNT Sports) and Sky TV. 

The investigation not only uncovered the significant financial gains derived by Mr. Merrell through ‘Media Maverick’ but also revealed Mr. Merrell’s involvement as a reseller for ‘Flawless’. Evidence obtained on this raid was crucial in identifying that the ‘Flawless’ service continued to run ever after the key operators had been arrested.  This was a pivotal factor in one of the most significant illegal streaming service prosecutions of its kind and contributed to the collective 30 years of custodial sentences for defendants involved in the ‘Flawless’ operation.

The investigation began in July 2019 with intelligence from FACT that pointed to Mr. Merrell’s illegitimate supply of access to premium television services. Following further investigation by FACT and a thorough financial investigation conducted by Birmingham Trading Standards, a warrant was executed in January 2021 at Mr. Merrell’s home in Sutton Coldfield. Several digital devices were seized, and a subsequent forensic examination by FACT provided crucial evidence for the prosecution.

Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT stated: “Once again a robust, collaborative investigation with law enforcement has proved to be effective in combating serious criminal activity. This conviction sends a clear message that making premium televisual content available illegally is a serious crime with severe consequences. In this case, we would particularly like to thank Birmingham Trading Standards and West Midlands Police for their assistance and involvement, without which convictions such as this would not be possible.

At FACT we remain committed to protecting the rights of our partners in the audio-visual and sports industries, and we will seek out and prosecute individuals involved in such criminality.”

 Tony Quigley, Head of Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council, said“We welcome the 12-month custodial sentence and confiscation order for f £91,254 in this case, especially given the judges’ comment that Merrell knew what he was doing was unlawful.

“Anyone who thinks they can get away with illegal streaming of subscription channels or pay-per-view events should take heed – next time it could be you facing a prison sentence and a hefty fine.”

FACT works with sports rights holders, broadcast partners, and others across the industry to investigate and prosecute suppliers of illegal streaming services and other IP crimes, as well as those accessing illegal content. Illegal IPTV undermines broadcasters’ rights by diverting revenue streams, as it enables users to access premium content without proper compensation.

The hearing – R (Birmingham City Council) v PAUL MERRELL took place at Birmingham Crown Court on February 2, 2024.  Mr. Merrell pleaded guilty to the following charges and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on each count: 

  1. POSSESSING, SELLING OR DISTRIBUTING A DEVICE DESIGNED TO CIRCUMVENT TECHNICAL MEASURES, contrary to Section 296ZB(1)(c) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

Judge comments:

“This was a sophisticated, persistent commercial undertaking which lasted for 4 years and would have continued had you not been stopped”. “It was designed for profit, and you were the person profiting.”

About FACT

Established in 1983, FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) are the UK’s leading intellectual property protection organisation protecting brands and businesses from intellectual property crime and keeping people safe online. FACT leads the way in tackling piracy on behalf of rights holders and content creators.

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