In a major recent strike against streaming piracy, the FBI has shut down and brought charges against two popular subscription-based streaming services, iStreamItAll and Jetflix. The criminal copyright infringement case delivers a stern warning to others operating similar piratical operations.
iStreamItAll, created by Las Vegas resident Julius Polo in 2013, and Jetflix, founded in 2015 by Luis Villarino, based their business models on granting members unlimited access to huge libraries of movies and TV shows in exchange for monthly subscription fees ranging from $19.99 to as high as $179.99 annually. At their peaks, the platforms boasted tens of thousands of users paying for unfettered access to the latest films and binge-worthy shows.
However, the TV shows and movies offered by these services were sourced from torrents, usenet groups, and other piracy channels, sidestepping copyright law. According to the case‘s Statement of Facts, "The defendant used automated software programs-such as SickRage, Sick Beard, and SABnzbd-to scour popular torrent and Usenet sites for pirated television shows and movies."
The prevalence of sites like iStreamItAll and Jetflix has taken a major toll on entertainment industry revenues. According to a 2019 report by Digital TV Research, streaming piracy costs North American media companies over $9.5 billion annually in lost earnings.[insert graph on streaming piracy losses]
After a lengthy investigation, authorities were able to shut down iStreamItAll and Jetflix for good. Both Polo and Villarino face up to 5 years in prison on criminal copyright infringement charges, with Polo also admitting to money laundering of over $1 million generated through user subscription fees.
The Challenges of Policing Streaming Piracy
Clamping down on streaming piracy sites is an ongoing challenge, as new platforms constantly emerge to replace those shuttered by authorities. As technology has made it ever easier to rip and distribute copyrighted content online through torrents, cyberlockers, illegal streaming devices, etc., piracy has boomed. Experts estimate over half of North American households engage in some form of media piracy.
"Streaming piracy generates huge profits for site operators while undercutting creators and distributors. Our job is to aggressively pursue the individuals behind these types of criminal operations," said an FBI spokesperson involved with the iStreamItAll and Jetflix investigation.
However, identifying and building cases against pirate streaming platforms is far from straightforward. "These sites are adept at using technological workarounds to evade detection," said cybersecurity expert Alicia Johnson. "Tools like VPNs, peer-to-peer networking, and constantly shifting domains and hosting make nailing down these operations tricky."
Proving recklessness or willful intent is also difficult, as site runners can claim ignorance of a site‘s infringing activity. It took over 2 years of gathering evidence for authorities to take action in the iStreamItAll and Jetflix case.
Ongoing Debate Around Copyright Law
The termination of iStreamItAll and Jetflix has sparked broader debate around the complexities of copyright law in the internet era. Some advocate for more flexibility around content access, particularly for out-of-print or niche media.
"More nuanced conversations are needed around remix culture and limitations to copyright in the digital age," said media studies professor Henry Adams. "Having reasonable access to content for commentary, critique, or educational purposes should be considered fair use."
Others strongly defend copyright holders‘ exclusive rights to distribute their work, arguing that copyright remains essential for compensating creators.
"Content makers deserve to control access to their creations and earn revenue from them," said musician and artist advocate group Creative Alliance in a statement responding to the case. "Services that freely distribute pirated media severely undermine those rights."
Balancing open access with artists‘ and companies‘ interests remains an ongoing tug-of-war. The law currently favors copyright holders, with the operators of iStreamItAll and Jetflix facing lengthy prison sentences. However, the debate seems unlikely to be settled anytime soon.
How Can Consumers Stream Media Legally?
For consumers wishing to enjoy movies and shows online in a legitimate manner, many convenient options exist through licensed streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and countless niche services like horror-centric Shudder or anime site Crunchyroll.
Carefully researching services using consumer advocacy sites can help identify trustworthy options that properly compensate creators. Warning signs of shady platforms include:
- Offering unlimited access to currently airing shows and new movie releases
- Lacking licensing deals with major studios and networks
- Having a small, niche library focused on rare content
- Being based outside North America or Western Europe
- Promoting the use of piracy tools like Kodi or custom firmware devices
Sticking to well-known platforms like HBO Max ensures subscribers stay on the right side of copyright law while enjoying their favorite media. As the iStreamItAll and Jetflix crackdown demonstrated, the FBI is continuing to ramp up enforcement against sites flagrantly abetting media piracy.
By supporting legitimate services, consumers can access abundant entertainment while respecting creators‘ rights. While the law remains complex, when in doubt, if a streaming deal seems too good to be true, consumers should trust their instincts and avoid potentially illegal operations.