Ask Adrian: My son says I should get a dodgy box. Can I be prosecuted for having one?

Irish Independent tech

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keep hearing about crackdowns on so-called ‘dodgy boxes’. My son said he’s been using one for a while and wants me to get one to save money. He said you can’t be prosecuted for having one. Is he right?
— Brendan Monahan


No. Irish law can be used to prosecute people who use ‘dodgy boxes’.

The Copyright Act 2000, Section 140 (4) says: “a person who… has in his or her possession, custody or control of a protection-defeating device, knowing or having reason to believe that it has been or is to be used to circumvent rights protection measures, or provides information, or offers or performs any service, intended to enable or assist a person to circumvent rights protection measures, shall be guilty of an offence”.

The penalty, on summary conviction, is a fine of up to €1,900 or up to a year in prison. And yes, the guards can search your house for one, under the same law, if they get a warrant from a District Court.

Having said all that, these searches and prosecutions are very, very rare. In practice, authorities almost always go after those who are selling or distributing dodgy boxes to try and cut off the services closer to the source. There have been a few prosecutions for this in the last few years in Ireland. That brings us to the current crackdown, which is being directed by an organisation called the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact). This organisation is targeting around 20 sources, distributors or ‘services’, using the logic that they can affect thousands of dodgy box users this way instead of some random households.

There are 12 counties being targeted: Mayo, Limerick, Meath, Offaly, Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Wicklow, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Kildare and Donegal. So while your son isn’t right on the law, he may well be right in believing that he’s unlikely to have a garda turning up to his door anytime soon. But he might also know that he might be at a higher risk of getting malware into his system by using one of these boxes, which are the definition of unregulated tech.

While we’re talking about this, one last point about dodgy boxes. While I understand the feeling of those who say that TV entertainment — particularly sport — has become exorbitantly expensive, it’s a stretch to say that using a dodgy box is justifiable.

At the end of the day, you’re paying someone to hack someone’s business. I’m not calling for a moral crusade; just pointing out the basic fact of it.

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