A pair of Las Vegas computer programmers pleaded guilty last week to operating massive unauthorized streaming services that authorities say rivaled the libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu and cost copyright owners millions.
Darryl Julius Polo, 36, pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court in Eastern Virginia to copyright infringement and money laundering charges for running iStreamItAll, an illegal online, subscription-based service that at one point carried nearly 118,500 TV episodes and almost 11,000 movies. He earned more than $1 million from such operations, prosecutors said.
“Polo admitted that he reproduced tens of thousands of copyrighted television episodes and movies without authorization, and streamed and distributed the infringing programs to thousands of paid subscribers located throughout the U.S.,” the Justice Department said in a news release.
Known online as “djppimp,” Polo started iStreamItAll around 2014, according to investigators, and the site was operational until shortly after his indictment in August. Its website advertised an expansive, commercial-free service that worked across most popular devices, from smartphones to AppleTV to Xbox One. A monthly subscription cost $19.99, and longer-term subscriptions cost as much as $179.99 a year.
“The estimated harm to television program and motion picture copyright owners as well as licensed streaming services caused by ISIA was millions of dollars,” investigators said in Polo’s indictment.
Luis Angel Villarino, 40, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, worked alongside Polo at Jetflicks, another illegal streaming operation. Polo later left Jetflicks to start iStreamItAll, prosecutors said. Both services relied on automated piracy programs that scour the Internet for content, and store it on servers in the U.S. and Canada before making it available to subscribers.
“According to both plea agreements, Polo, Villarino and their co-conspirators at Jetflicks reproduced tens of thousands of copyrighted television episodes without authorization, and streamed and distributed the infringing programs to tens of thousands of paid subscribers located throughout the U.S.,” the Justice Department said in its release.
For $9.99 a month, Jetflicks subscribers could access TV shows from a variety of platforms and networks around the world, often just days after episodes aired. The Las Vegas-based operation offered streaming and sometimes downloading on a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets and game consoles. At one point, it claimed more than 183,200 TV episodes and 37,000 subscribers, according to court documents, but its vast library was culled through pirate sites and illegal file-sharing practices.
Jetflicks, which began sometime in 2007, once brought in $750,000 in a single year, according to chats between programmers in court documents.
Polo and Villarino are scheduled to be sentenced in March, and the other six defendants in the case are slated to go to trial in early February.
As the streaming wars heat up and competition becomes even more fierce, piracy sites are likely to face greater scrutiny. In late October, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment established an anti-piracy group that includes big studios such as Warner Bros., Disney, Netflix, AMC, Lionsgate, as well as Comcast and Charter. The group is meant to “reduce unauthorized access to content,” it said in a news release, including cracking down on password sharing, a major issue for streamers.
“We are very pleased that ACE and its coalition of members have committed through this initiative to take on unauthorized password sharing and other content security practices, and we look forward to working together on this important issue,” Tom Rutledge, chief executive of Charter, said in a news release. “Consumer, creators, and distributors alike will benefit from collaborative solutions that make content more secure and curtail unauthorized copyright use and distribution, while preserving the customer’s ability to enjoy the content rights they’ve purchased on the network, platform, device, and locations to which they subscribe.”