A company in Edgemead has been fined R20 000 for supplying devices which aid film piracy in a landmark ruling in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court.
Jacque Hilbert‚ a director of AVSupply, pleaded guilty to charges that he distributed internet TV boxes which, according to the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), facilitated the piracy of movies and TV series.
A case made against the company, in which MultiChoice is the first complainant and SAFACT the second complainant, concluded on March 31, and has become the first successful criminal case of its kind. Mr Hilbert and his wife Tracy were initially named as the accused in the case. The couple are joint owners of AVSupply.
The illegal distribution of the boxes was found following a series of raids made in joint operations between the SAPS and SAFACTS.
The charge sheet details how on October 1 2014, Jan Andreas, an employee of MultiChoice at the Broadcast Risk Division, while doing research found an Android set-up box called “DroitTv Box MXiii” imported and offered for sale through a website, registered in Ms Hilbert’s name.
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According to the online advertisement, the box has the latest Android 4.4 Kitkat operating system preloaded with a media player application, called XBMC.
The box had no local channels but had movies, series, news, sports and children’s channels. The Droit Box, the software application XBMC with the add-ons that are installed on the box, links to a range of pirated content on the internet which it accesses seamlessly.
“The guilty plea was entered on Sec 86(4) of the Electronic, Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act that criminalises the utilisation of a device or computer program in order to overcome security measures designed to protect data or access thereto. The sentence was suspended for five years on condition that he (Mr Hilbert) is not convicted of contravening the provisions of Section 86 of the ECT Act again,” said SAFACT’s managing director, Jacques Allers.
However, Mr Hilbert disputed the accuracy of SAFACT’s report, saying that it was not him that was sentenced to a R20 000 fine, but the company AVSupply.
Mr Hilbert said that criminal charges against him and his wife had been dropped.
“Their facts are completely wrong. We were never arrested when the raids happened; no criminal charges were made against my wife and I. The company got a fine for the sale of the device.
“They (SAFACTS) also said that the cost of the confiscated items was R80 000. The cost was only R6 000 with a retail price of R8 000. They say the box allows access to pirated content online, but I don’t know. Any person with a computer who has access to YouTube can see those things,” said Mr Hilbert, referring to the copyright infringement accusation.
The Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court charge sheet lists AVSupply as the accused in this case, noting that the company is duly represented by Mr Hilbert.
AVSupply pleaded guilty to one count of contravening the ECT Act.
The plea and sentence agreement notes as mitigating factors that the business was started three years ago as a way of supporting Mr Hilbert’s single salary of the household; that Mr Hilbert has no previous convictions and that the offence was committed partly due to a lack of knowledge of the relevant procedures and the required prerequisites to advertise and sell the DroidTv Box.
Senior State Advocate, Juan Agulhas also said that Mr Hilbert pleaded guilty in a representative capacity, on behalf of AV Supply.
“He has no personal criminal record as a result of the guilty plea,” Mr Agulhas explained.
Although Mr Hilbert accepted the guilty plea and allowed the confiscated property to be seized as part of his plea, he said that the only reason the boxes were regarded as devices that enabled piracy, is because he struggled to obtain the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) licence to sell the device.
“It took me three months to register, and I tried registering with Icasa, but they kept asking me for the same documents over and over again. Other companies sell similar devices. Why are they not arrested?” asked Mr Hilbert.
AVSupply has not shut down, and Mr Hilbert and his wife will not be held criminally liable as directors of the company. “We are being bulldozed by large corporations,” said Mr Hilbert.