The ongoing challenges presented by illicit streaming and the disappointments of the recent EU Digital Services Act are among the issues currently concerning AAPA Executive VP Sheila Cassells, writes David Davies.

Prior to joining the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) in 2011, Sheila Cassells was a member of Sky’s top 100 leadership team and the senior executive responsible for a broad range of EU policy matters, including technology spectrum, copyright, content, piracy, the environment, taxation and employment.

Sheila Cassells 1

Sheila Cassells, AAPA

As she revealed in this interview, Cassells plans to step down from her role as AAPA Executive Vice-President at the end of this year. But before that, she shared her views on the most significant current piracy challenges to content creators, the AAPA’s ongoing cooperation with organisations including Europol and INTERPOL, and the notable omissions in the EU’s recent Digital Services Act.

How would you characterise the current severity of audio-visual piracy worldwide, and could the problem be said to have become markedly worse during the past few years?

Piracy continues to cause considerable harm to the audiovisual sector, despite its efforts and investments in anti-piracy activities and technologies.  Over the past few years – and in the lockdown in particular – AAPA members did see spikes in piracy as new actors exploited changed behaviour with people working from home and diversion of law enforcement resources to other priorities such as the influx of counterfeit PPE. While the pandemic spikes have reduced, piracy remains a significant challenge and industry players – and associated stakeholders such as IBC, social media companies, hosting providers, etc – must remain very vigilant.

Could you give us a sense of the scale of piracy in 2023, and highlight any countries or territories where the problem is accelerating most rapidly?

A recent Park Associates report suggests that the cumulative loss from piracy for US streaming providers serving US consumers will be $113 billion in 2027, with a further $700million being lost to fraudulent advertising in that year. Closer to home, a study undertaken for AAPA by Bournemouth University estimated that legitimate IPTV providers lost €3.21 billion to pirates in 2021, with the pirates earning €1.06 billion. Some 17m European citizens used illicit IPTV services in that year. To put this into context the population of The Netherlands is 17.53 million - which is not to say that The Netherlands is the home of piracy.

What are the types of audio-visual piracy that are most commonplace at present, and has the changed much in recent times?

Illicit streaming (IPTV) is still by a considerable margin the most common form of piracy. Over the last few years, we have seen growth in the number and diversity of apps providing unauthorised access to audiovisual content. The use of apps is more common amongst young people who tend to use mobile devices to watch content. The EUIPO Observatory’s IP Perception Report 2023 revealed that 14% of all EU citizens had intentionally accessed pirated content (including music, books, etc) in the past year, with that figure more than doubling to 33% for young people aged 15 to 24.

How concerned should media & entertainment companies be about the role of some devices – such as ISDs, Firesticks and Android apps – as facilitators of piracy? And what would the AAPA like to see happen to address this?

Media and entertainment companies need to be very concerned about any technological development which can be used to access pirated content. At a basic level – and common to all the technical devices mentioned - AAPA would like to see the production, marketing and distribution of any device which can be used to infringe IP made illegal. There is a precedent for this in the EU in the so-called Conditional Access Directive. It is encouraging also to see e-commerce platforms such as Amazon taking action against counterfeit firesticks. However, the sector faces a particular challenge in pursuing action with many of these devices being made in China, and taking action there is not easy.

The AAPA has been cooperating with Europol, Eurojust and INTERPOL on the problem of AV piracy. What can you tell us about these collaborations?

Over the years AAPA has delivered a number of training programmes for law enforcement officers at the request of these international agencies. This started with the production of two e-training modules for the IIPCIC platform run by INTERPOL. These modules are available in six languages. Later this year we will deliver face-to-face training in Sofia under the auspices of EMPACT. This follows on from a successful event last year. We have also provided on-the-ground expert support for operations being co-ordinated by Europol and Eurojust. In relation to INTERPOL, we are very pleased to be a member of its Stop Online Piracy Digital Advisory Group.

The new EU Digital Services Act (DSA) was published in October 2022 and gives affected service providers until 1 January 2024 to comply with its provisions. What is the AAPA view on the act with regard to its anti-piracy measures, and in particular its failure to include a Know Your Business Customer (KYBC) requirement?

AAPA is disappointed that the DSA failed to deliver on many fronts. That includes the missed opportunity to adopt a KYBC requirement which would have required hosting providers, e-commerce platforms, apps stores, etc, to carry out due diligence on their potential customers. We are very aware from our conversations with these stakeholders that they often take no steps to screen out customers who facilitate piracy.

A major disappointment is the failure to legislate against live event piracy. This is a very real and current problem which is costing the sports industry, amongst others, substantial damage. Despite this – and the calls of 110 MEPs for legislation – we have a non-binding Recommendation, the impact of which will be monitored over three years before the need for legislation is accepted.

Can you outline any other significant recent developments for the AAPA?

AAPA continues to build upon its core strengths, which include the willingness of its members to share knowledge and expertise amongst themselves and with law enforcement and policy makers. Of course, the emphasis given to one or other topic can vary according to perceived and real needs.

I will step down at the end of this year following over 12 years at the helm. This provides an ideal opportunity for members and my successor to review AAPA’s strategy.

What is the significance of the IBC Show with regard to raising awareness around piracy issues?

IBC has an important role to play through the promotion of products which are “real” and through making customers aware that products which are not real can not only offer unauthorised access to many exhibitors’ legitimate content, but also convey the risk that their deployment can result in malware with the consequent identity theft, seizure of bank details, and so on. In this context AAPA is pleased that IBC organisers have screened out some well-known pirate device suppliers.

Finally, if there is one message you would like IBC visitors this year to take onboard regarding the piracy problem, what would it be?

If the offer is too good to be true it is probably not ‘real’.

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