(Pictured: Paul O’Brien. Photo: Collins)
By Jessica Magee and Fiona Ferguson
A computer technician who sold android boxes allowing cheap access to thousands of TV channels has been sentenced to 240 hours of community service.
Paul O’Brien (38) of Raheen Close in Tallaght pleaded guilty to three sample counts of copyright infringements involving the possession and sale of so-called “protection-defeating devices” on dates between June 2016 and December 2017.
Passing sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan said it was “a sneaky type of offence – hard to detect”.
The judge said his first thought had been to imprison O’Brien, describing the offences as “classic white collar criminal behavior” and commented that the only deterrence was a custodial sentence.
He said, however, he had noted what his colleagues had done in similar cases and noted for a first offence in these circumstances, there was normally a non-custodial disposal.
He said that he found what O’Brien had done “reprehensible”, saying it was a well-thought-out scheme to make money and defraud the rightful owners of their property rights, but he was going to stay his hand. He told O’Brien he had been very close to going to prison.
The judge previously referred the case to the probation service to see if O’Brien was suitable for community service, ordering 240 hours of community service in lieu of two years imprisonment.
The court heard today that O’Brien was deemed eligible for community service, and the judge finalised the sentence.
Judge Nolan also previously ordered the forfeiture of €20,410 and the destruction of the equipment seized.
At an earlier sentence hearing, the court heard that O’Brien sold Android boxes to 150 customers and then charged them €12 a month to get activation codes.
The buyers would then use a new code each month to activate access to about 4,000 TV channels.
Garda Brian O’Connor told the court that a company like Sky or Virgin would ordinarily charge viewers anything between €30 to €130 a month to give similar access to TV channels.
The court heard that over €34,000 was frozen in O’Brien’s bank account, of which about 60 per cent came from the illegal sale of these devices.
Gda O’Connor told Simon Matthews BL, prosecuting, that the offence came to light when a Sky investigator made a test purchase of a Merlin TV Android box in October 2017 from a website called IPTV Wizard.
He was sent an activation code which allowed him access to the TV channels and he reported the incident to gardaí.
O’Brien was easily traced through the company registered to the Android box, and gardaí got warrants to search his house and that of his partner in December 2017.
Numerous items were seized from O’Brien’s house, including a black tower PC containing data relating to the activation codes and details about sourcing the boxes.
Mr Matthews said O’Brien had been sourcing the boxes himself from the website alibaba.com and passing them on but that the re-broadcasting was done by other parties.
Other items seized included 100 flyers advertising IPTV Wizard, business cards, remote control and details of O’Brien’s bank account.
O’Brien, who has no previous convictions, was arrested by appointment in September 2018 and made substantial admissions in his third interview with gardaí.
He told gardaí he had been running the IPTV Wizard website from about 2015 or 2016 until his house was raided.
O’Brien said he had about 150 customers who sourced the box and that he was getting €12 for each activation code he sold per month.
Gda O’Connor agreed with Judge Nolan that O’Brien would have been getting about €1,800 a month.
“If the guards hadn’t stopped him, he could have had a living out of this,” said Judge Nolan.
O’Brien told gardaí that about 60 per cent of the €34,017 in his bank account had come from IPTV sales.
Philipp Rahn SC, defending O’Brien, said other monies coming into his client’s account included wages and the proceeds of legitimate sales of items like gaming pads, air mouses and controllers.
Mr Rahn said O’Brien had not come to garda attention since this offence and was unlikely to come before the courts again.
He pointed out that gardaí had found no trappings of wealth in O’Brien’s house and said his client was a computer design technician who had worked hard all his life.
O’Brien set up his own company in 2016, and when this went out of business in 2018, it was “very difficult” for him, counsel said, and he ended up in this “misadventure and criminality”.
“This matter came as a huge shock to him,” said Mr Rahn, presenting a letter from O’Brien’s GP showing that he suffered from anxiety and was attending counselling.
O’ Brien’s partner, who wrote a letter to the court, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015.
She said O’Brien was a dedicated father to their 14-year-old son and a valuable member of the local community who was “always willing to help people”.