The talk of Android boxes, Firesticks, and illegal streaming has once again been reignited here in Trinidad as talk from TATT and other service providers turn their attention on how to combat the issue of piracy and online copyright infringement. Remember a few years ago we had the popular slogan “Netflix and Chill”? Well, that has been effectively replaced by “Just Firestick It”.
Illegal streaming has gone from taboo to being completely normalized due to its accessibility, ease of use, and a growing frustration with our service providers.
Naturally, our Service Providers have reviewed their numbers and anytime revenue takes a dip, any normal business would begin to look for reasons as to what could be causing it. Last week I talked about the issue of TATT beginning to hold meetings to look at possibly implementing an outright ban of Android Box importation into the country and made points as to why that thinking was misplaced. (Check that article out here –> TATT & Android Boxes)
Today I wanted to bring awareness to what is considered legal and illegal streaming as there is no better time to be informed of where the line is drawn. As lawmakers begin to look into this issue, I am certain something will come out of these discussions as around the world everyone has been reviewing their copyright laws to combat the growing market for illegal streaming. Whether we can effectively implement and properly police any new legislation remains to be seen.
With faster internet speeds, more accessibility to cord cutting software and with the cost of living on the rise, everyone is looking for ways to save some money and what better to do that than by getting rid of cable.
TV watching is on the steady decline as we aren’t sitting in front of the TV as much anymore and the on-demand options that spread across multiple platforms allow us to watch our shows on the go. While services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Facebook Watch, Instagram TV and other apps that can be found in the App Store or Play store are legal, let us take a look at the apps like Kodi, Mobdro, Livenet TV, etc, and see where they fall in the legal spectrum.
Kodi has been the main application that has made headlines across the globe due to its popularity and flexibility for legal and illegal activities. As a standalone app, Kodi is a media player that allows you to import, organize and view your personal library. No harm here.
Since Kodi is an open source platform and allows developers to create add-ons that are not officially supported by them, the waters can get a little muddy and the casual user may believe these applications are ok.
When popular apps like Covenant, Elysium, Placenta, Genesis (to name a few) are created with the purpose of streaming illegal pirated content, this is where the problems are. So while the Android box and Kodi itself are legal, the pirated streams are not. The creators of the content do not receive any revenue from these mediums.
However, there are a wide variety of applications that the official Kodi team has developed that are legal and can be used for content consumption, so it is always best to see what applications the official team has put together and use those to avoid any problems.
While Mobdro and other free streaming apps give us pirated streams to thousands of channels across the globe, the legal ramifications all depend on the country you reside in. Last year the EU passed the Digital Economy Act which raised the maximum sentence for Online Copyright Infringement offences from two to 10 years. These provisions don’t just stretch to the uploaders but to also the consumers of the content.
Now I know most people will say that VPNs (Virtual Private Network) are the answer. If you aren’t sure what a VPN is, it basically allows you to create a secure connection that hides your activities on the network. People also use it to bypass apps that have geo locks and don’t allow you to access particular sites or content outside of a geographical area.
So while a VPN will hide your activities from your ISP and also the authorities from what you are accessing, the result still remains that apps streaming pirated content are illegal.
So what is TATT to Do?
Well, first things first banning Android Boxes is most certainly not the answer, as the problem is more sophisticated than that. Globally, Copyright infringement laws have been made clearer, and more concise to aid in the fight against Digital copyright infringement. Historically we have laws that govern the storing and distribution of illegal content, which has much more severe penalties.
But we also live in a country where there are full bootleg DVD stores on most corners, equipped with staff ready to assist you. So the question must be asked, if you haven’t taken the bootleg businesses off of the streets, which is relatively simple, how can you effectively deal with a matter as complex as illegal streaming?
We need to break down what goes on in the illegal cord cutting market. There are the manufacturers who make Android boxes, Firesticks, Apple TVs, Roku Boxes and those are all legal. You have the developers who create the illegal apps to show pirated content, and also the end user who consumes the content.
I believe the EU has it right in their approach with the Digital Economy Act and stretching the provisions to not just the developers but also the end users who are consuming pirated content.
If TATT begins making provisions that focus more on streaming of pirated illegal content and not the hardware, they may make some headway there. Blocking sites from being accessed may be an option but that’s along the lines of Net Neutrality and we saw first-hand in the USA, the process that needed to happen for ISP’s to gain such power.
The next logical question would be to figure out if we have similar laws equivalent to Net Neutrality like in the States and see if our service providers can legally block content. The Android box conversation opens up a can of worms and who knows just how far down the rabbit hole we need to go to effectively combat online piracy here in the Caribbean.
What Can You Do?
As a consumer, the most important thing you can do is stay informed, and know where the lines are in regards to what’s legal & illegal in the world of cord cutting. You can still get rid of the TV altogether and don’t need TV from Flow, Digicel, or Bmobile. There are hundreds of legal applications that can effectively allow you to cut the cord, so don’t feel as if you need to stick to paying for cable.
Between all of the paid options and legal free options for content consumption, you can save a ton of money by ditching your cable subscriptions and just subscribing to internet plans. If TATT does take legal provisions, you will definitely want to know what is legal from what isn’t, to save yourself a headache in the courts.
Digital platforms have allowed us to make money globally and not limit ourselves to one area. Most of the laws were conducted in eras that never foreseen the advancements in technology like we are seeing today. As a content creator myself, we are all looking to find ways to build our brands online and make money from our Digital properties.
We all need to be guided by our moral compass, as online streaming apps are becoming cheaper, more innovative, and allow for everyday people to build their brands.
Cutting out the digital copyright infringement will allow for more innovation in the space and more money to be spread to the people who are putting out their hard work to make a living online.
This is also a chance for Service providers to take on the challenge of combating against the new technology on the market through innovation, service, all for an affordable price. If you can figure out how to do that, you may just win back some of that lost revenue. We must still understand that illegal streaming can come with penalties and the conversation has commenced here in Trinidad, and need to see it for what it is digital piracy. Ultimately, any app that gives access to pirated content should be blocked.