European police busted an illegal streaming ring that provided service to 2 million people and was so sophisticated that it had its own customer-service team.
The criminal network operated for over five years and offered more than 40,000 channels, movies, documentaries and other content, according to European police coordination agency Europol.
The scale of the operation shows how the big streaming platforms still struggle to deal with content theft as criminals find new ways to hack their anti-piracy systems.
The group offered a technical assistance service and high standards of quality control, earning an estimated 15 million euros ($17 million) through PayPal payments, bank transfers and cryptocurrencies, the agency said.
The threat to legal streaming may grow if Netflix Inc., Walt Disney Co. and others gradually raise prices in coming years to capitalize on their fast-growing subscriber bases and viewers seek out cheaper, illegal alternatives.
“The background threat of piracy means that the subscription video-on-demand services will have the ongoing threat of piracy as a pricing factor,” Midia Research analyst Tim Mulligan said by email.
The group operated mainly out of Spain, said Eurojust, an agency that oversees cooperation on judicial matters. Police forces made 15 house searches across Europe and arrested 11 people. Eurojust said 50 servers were taken down in nine countries.
A property, luxury cars and jewellery, cash and cryptocurrencies were seized for a total value of about 4.8 million euros, Europol said. Another 1.1 million euros was frozen in various bank accounts.