A Hamilton entrepreneur who says he has sold more than 8000 internet television boxes to Kiwi consumers says he is keen to have his day in court with Sky TV.
Krish Reddy’s company My Box and another firm, Christchurch’s FibreTV NZ, are both being sued by Sky TV, which says their devices are designed to help people illegally watch programmes, including those for which Sky has the New Zealand broadcasting rights.
Many internet users will have come across online advertisements for devices that promise free access to subscription television shows and movies.
Known as Android streaming media players or Kodi boxes – and costing upwards of $70 – these will generally come preloaded with software that points to foreign television streams.
Advertisements commonly state that they are legal but not liked by cable television companies, which Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way said might be enough to set off some red flags with consumers.
The legality of media players and Kodi software is not in dispute, but Way said the issue was that the boxes were configured and promoted as a way for people to freely watch pay-TV programmes, including ones for which Sky had the New Zealand broadcasting rights.
“It is not like you are selling a generic laptop; they are coming preloaded with software that presents you with these illegal streams of content … which include live sport and the hottest TV shows.”
My Box’s devices helped people watch “premium drama” such as Game of Thrones and a cricket match between South Africa and New Zealand, Sky has alleged.
Reddy, who also runs a handyman business, said the initial $1.4m compensation being demanded by Sky could rise by millions by the time a judgment was reached.
“They have given us until September 24 to respond. We are not going to sit and take it.
“How many people can say they went up against a multimillion dollar giant like Sky?”
He believed Sky “didn’t have a case” because the programmes streamed to its devices came from overseas and weren’t owned or created by My Box, though he acknowledged its devices did make those streams easy to find.
“Their point of view is they own copyright and I’m destroying the market by giving people content for free.
“To me it is business; I have got something that is new … that’s competition”
Even if My Box lost its case, “the devices we have sold here and internationally will still work the same”, Reddy noted.
He believed the trigger for Sky’s legal action had been a bulk email My Box sent to 50,000 people, which reached the inboxes of 50 Sky staff and directors.
“This was us promoting our product as being better than Sky.”
Fibre TV NZ said in a statement that it had done nothing illegal and would also be contesting the action against it.
“Fibre TV believes that it is Sky’s long-term goal to use these proceedings to change NZ law by using the courts as opposed to using Parliament to change the law,” it said.
Way said the quality of illegal streams provided by Kodi boxes ranged from “clunky” – for example when programmes were being refilmed from a TV screen – to “really good”.
Outside of sport, pretty much every show and movie was available, she said.
“Sport is more variable, depending on what software you’ve downloaded and the event,” she said.
“It could be live and perfect or you may not find it or you may get a few seconds or it could look like rubbish.”
But all of Sky’s sports programming was “at risk”, she said.
Way said it was not just television companies that were losing out, but programme makers and sports codes who weren’t being paid for their work.
“Anyone selling these boxes are within our sights.”
Consumers who had bought Kodi boxes were not on its radar “at the moment”, Way said.
But Sky was watching developments in other countries, including Britain, where consumer prosecutions have been tipped.
“You have got to go after the big fish first. We’d rather educate the public first,” Way said.
Way agreed legal action could become a game of wackamole. But the problem was “big and not going to go away”, she said.
“Right now we are just focused on getting a ruling on the legality of these boxes.”
Reddy said his company was making television fairer and programmes should not only be available “to the rich”.
Way agreed consumers’ views on the rights and wrongs might be influenced by perceptions that Sky’s own service was expensive. “But that is not an excuse to steal it,” she said.
Other than prosecuting distributors of Kodi boxes, another avenue would be for the Government to follow Australia and introduce site-blocking laws that could force internet providers to block access to websites streaming pirated content, Way said.
But she agreed that came with the risk that blocks could also be put on other internet content for other purposes.
“I can see the fine line there and how you wouldn’t want too much interference,” she said.