UK duo jailed for fraudulently selling access to Premier League Football tv coverage

By Manuela Macchi, UK & European Trademark Attorney, Partner, Keltie LLP, London

On 19 August 2015, the UK criminal court of Guilford (Guilford Crown Court) convicted Simon Hopkins and Leon Passlow to a three-and-a-half year custodial sentence for fraud as they were found guilty of selling domestic use only BSkyB cards to pubs and other commercial premises.

The duo ran a company called Digicam International Ltd (‘Digicam’) which purchased domestic use only BSkyB cards for watching Premier League matches using hundreds of false names and addresses. It then re-sold the domestic use cards to commercial premises, such as pubs and betting shops, but also yachts, for a premium. Despite the premium paid, these commercial premises were still making significant savings on what would have been the standard commercial rate had they purchased commercial use cards from BSkyB. It was calculated that due to this fraudulent operation BSkyB lost earnings in the region of £590,000 between January 2008 and September 2012. Digicam was was estimated to have had a turnover of around £2 million a year.

The investigation started in May 2012, when the police economic crime unit and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) received complaints from BSkyB and members of the public as Digicam was advertising their services also on the Internet. In the paperwork sent to their ‘subscribers’, Digicam was warning them not to contact BSkyB directly, or the subscription would be cancelled.

The duo are now facing further prosecution as the police’s economic crime unit will proceed to confiscate any assets acquired as a result of the fraudulent operation.

After the judgment, a Premier League spokesman declared: “A three and a half year custodial sentence sends a clear message: supplying systems which enable unauthorised broadcasts of Premier League football to be made in commercial premises is illegal. The supplier in this case – Digicams – was fraudulently selling cards intended for home use to commercial premises to enable unauthorised broadcasts of Premier League football. This judgment serves as a reminder to the pub industry, and other businesses which show live football, that Sky Sports and BT Sport are the only authorised broadcasters of live Premier League football in the UK.”

Our comments can only resonate with those of the Premier League spokesman!