Are dodgy boxes illegal? The EU has its say

26 Apr 2017

Image: StockLite/Shutterstock

The European Court of Justice is getting firm on the sale of dodgy boxes, though what that means for devices already bought remains unclear.

The popular practice of buying multimedia devices that access internet streams of live and pre-recorded TV content could be finally coming to an end.

That’s according to a new ruling from the the European Court of Justice (ECJ) today (26 April), which sheds light on what the sellers of these devices should be liable for.

Dodgy boxes

A common defence of selling these ‘dodgy boxes’ is that they are merely tangible objects that can connect to the internet and stream content that, in some cases, infringes on copyright.

It’s not the seller’s fault that users are willing to flout copyright laws, as he or she is just selling a device that can be used in multiple ways.

Think of a car salesperson, defending their profession despite certain drivers reaching speeds over the accepted limits. Sure, the car could go at 250kph, but the seller isn’t to blame for that.

However, today’s ruling makes it clear that certain sellers are going above and beyond simply shipping devices to customers. They are directly facilitating the act of streaming copyright-protected content.

“The sale of a multimedia player [that] enables films that are available illegally on the internet to be viewed easily and for free on a television screen could constitute an infringement of copyright,” reads the ruling.

Going Dutch

Revolving around a case in the Netherlands, the seller in question pre-loaded software onto devices to make things easy for users to watch content. These dodgy boxes are often marketed with controllers, so content is often one, maybe two clicks away.

This pre-loading is a no-no, says the ECJ.

“Streaming websites are not readily identifiable by the public and the majority of them change frequently,” said the court.

By this, it implies that the seller is an active participant in the content viewing. Without the pre-loaded software, most consumers wouldn’t have a clue what to do.

And the ECJ says it’s a big number of the public.

“Furthermore, the communication at issue covers all persons who could potentially acquire that media player and have an internet connection,” it reads.

“Thus, that communication is aimed at an indeterminate number of potential recipients and involves a large number of persons.”

Sellers beware

Essentially, shops selling these devices might need to rethink their sales policy.

Earlier this week, eBay announced it was removing pre-loaded dodgy boxes, meaning those with Kodi Android software already on them.

“Anyone found to be knowingly selling items that don’t comply with the law will be investigated and could face account restrictions or suspension,” said a spokesperson for the company.

At the start of the month, Amazon did something similar.

However, anyone thinking that the ECJ’s ruling will be an end to this burgeoning aspect of internet-watching should think again.

At no stage can multimedia devices be found to contravene copyright law if they have no pre-installed software on them.

Given how certain internet sites provide step-by-step instructions on how to install the software at home, the battle could merely shift from the seller to the buyer.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic