As reported by the BBC, the operators of an illegal live streaming ring in the UK have this week been sentenced to prison, following the shutdown of their lucrative organisation.
The service known as Flawless offered £10 monthly subscriptions to customers in exchange for coverage of every Premier League game of the season, as well as other content.
The owners of Flawless designed handy apps for use on smart phones, TVs and other devices which enabled their subscribers to watch as many Premier League football matches as they wanted for a fraction of the price offered by legitimate broadcasters.
Flawless had 50,000 subscribers at the time that police shut it down and its owners are said to have made more than £7m across the five years it was active.
Now the men responsible for running Flawless have finally been sentenced in court.
At Derby Crown Court, 36-year-old Mark Gould, reportedly the man most responsible for the operation, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The four other men were given between three years and more than five years for their involvement.
Why is illegal live streaming so popular?
There are plenty of other such providers still active in the UK to take the place of Flawless as the illegal live streaming of sports continues to thrive for various reasons.
As the majority of UK citizens struggle through a cost-of-living crisis, the last thing they can afford to do is pay the astronomical £80 a month or more to broadcast rights holders like BT Sport and Sky Sports in order to follow the sport they love.
When someone comes around and offers them the same content for £10, they take it.
What's more, thanks to the controversial 3pm blackout, which disqualifies broadcasters from showing matches on a Saturday afternoon between 2.45pm and 5.15pm, British football fans are prevented from watching around half of the scheduled Premier League fixtures legally even if they wanted to.
Prosecutor David Groome told the court during the trial of Mark Gould and his cohorts that the gang had even exchanged messages between each other lauding the 3pm blackout as being "good for business".
The group specifically marketed the fact that they could get fans around the blackout and let them watch their favourite Premier League teams, just as fans across the world are able to do. They took feeds from the USA, Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere, and made them available to their subscribers in the UK.
Premier League fans on social media are becoming increasingly restless with the idea that, despite living in the very country in which the league is based, they are deprived of watching more than half the games, often involving their favourite teams.
Popular football-related YouTuber Daniel Bradley said this on the issue:
"The Premier League is on our doorstep and yet we have the least amount of access to that football".
See our Premier League Price Index for more details on just how much UK-based fans are paying compared to their global counterparts.
Dangers of illegal live streaming for fans
While all of this makes illegal live streaming of the Premier League, Champions League and other top football competitions attractive to the average UK football fan, there are still dangers to bear in mind.
There are the potential legal consequences of course.
Upon seizing all of the equipment in the raid on Gould and his colleagues, police gained access to the personal information of Flawless' subscribers, with some suggesting that the consumers themselves could be next to face legal action.
The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) has teamed up with the Premier League to dissuade fans from using such services. Their actions have included paying visits to the users of platforms like Flawless on their doorsteps, often accompanied by police, and warning them that they are committing crimes and could be liable to prosecution.
They also send "cease and desist" letters to the operators of those illegal live streaming platforms.
However, it remains rather unlikely right now that football fans using these services will themselves face prosecution.
Nonetheless, there are other reasons to be cautious about such platforms. Many of the live streams offered on such websites and apps are flooded with annoying pop-ups, malware and viruses which can cause damage to the devices on which they are used.
Furthermore, these streams can also prove a hotbed for hackers looking to access the payment information of users for fraudulent purposes or unwanted marketing.
Doug Love, an investigator from Trading Standards, told the BBC:
"You get sports and you are getting a cheap price, but you're committing an offence and putting yourself in danger."
"You are contributing to organised crime who won't be paying taxes and can make a quick buck by selling your details on."
Using these platforms is simply not safe for the users, their devices or their data.
The war against illegal live streaming goes on
Despite all of the concerns for the gangs and the users alike, the illegal live streaming of sports in the UK remains big business.
The sentencing of the owners of Flawless could potentially put some criminals off following in their footsteps, but looking at the landscape right now and the sheer number of such services out there, that seems improbable.
However, the Premier League has shown no desire to slow down in its pursuit of such criminal enterprises. It will continue its campaigns to try to dissuade fans from taking the illegal live streaming route and to prosecute the people responsible for creating the services.
Kevin Plumb, General Counsel at the Premier League, made a statement about the sentencing.
"The Premier League's substantial financial contribution to the entire football pyramid is made possible through the ability to sell our broadcast rights,"
"We are pleased that, through rulings such as this, the courts continue to show that they recognise the importance of safeguarding the Premier League's rights.
"We will continue to protect our rights and our fans by investigating and prosecuting illegal operators at all levels."
To what extent the Premier League is protecting its fans by taking away what is for many the only realistically affordable way of watching their content in the UK is unclear, and how successful they will eventually be at cracking down on this problem on the whole is yet to be seen.
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