Technology 4 min read

The FCC is Cracking Down on Pirate Cable Boxes

It's hard to believe that people still use cracked cable boxes, but apparently that's now a focus of the FCC. | Ekkaphan Chimpalee |

It's hard to believe that people still use cracked cable boxes, but apparently that's now a focus of the FCC. | Ekkaphan Chimpalee |

The FCC has asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake cable boxes that run on Kodi software and bear the FCC logo illegally.

Kodi (formerly XBMC for Xbox Media Center) is free media software platform that was first developed for gaming consoles.

The change of the name to Kodi, in 2014, reflects the software’s newfound polyvalence.

In recent years, crafty DIYers have found a way to use the open-source Kodi platform to build makeshift hardware that enables them to stream movies and TV shows for free instead of subscription-based cable boxes.

Read More: SpaceX’s StarLink Receives FCC Approval for Satellite Broadband Services

Some companies took initiative and offered users Kodi-based streaming devices like Dragonbox and TickBox that allow users to get access to copyrighted content.

As expected, the FCC and video streaming industry didn’t appreciate the growing trend of pirate set-up boxes (STB) and have been trying to put an end to it.

Now, the FCC has taken action.

The FCC’s Move Against “Rogue” Streaming Devices: a Letter to Amazon and eBay

Amazon, which is one of the plaintiffs in the case, lets vendors of illegal streaming devices sell their products on its own retail platform–as does eBay.

The FCC will hold Amazon and eBay accountable for the rise of fake pay-for-TV boxes and ask them to tighten their policies regarding fake boxes.

On May 25th, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly sent a letter to Jeff Bezos and Devin Wenig, CEOs of Amazon and eBay respectively, where he asks them to fight the listing of “rogue” streaming devices on their online platforms.

Because the FCC has little, if anything, to do with content copyright infringement in this case, the commissioner focused on the unauthorized display of the FCC logo instead.

O’Rielly’s letter speaks of nine set-top box distributors that are violating the FCC’s rules but he didn’t name any specific products.

“Disturbingly, some rogue settop box manufacturers and distributors are exploiting the FCC’s trusted logo by fraudulently placing it on devices that have not been approved via the Commission’s equipment authorization process. Specifically, nine set-top box distributors were referred to the FCC in October for enabling the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material, seven of which displayed the FCC logo, although there was no record of such compliance. Many of these sellers are attempting to distribute their non-compliant products through online marketplaces such as yours,” said O’Rielly.

Amazon and eBay Respond

Amazon responded quickly–as in the same day–to O’Reilly’s letter.

Brian Huseman, Amazon Public Policy VP, wrote back in a letter where he recalled Amazon’s ongoing efforts against online piracy, including fake pay-for-TV boxes.

Amazon joined Netflix, Hulu, and major Hollywood studios in an anti-piracy coalition (the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment) that includes over thirty members.

In Oct. 2017, the coalition filed suit against TickBox TV and then went after Dragonbox last January.

Amazon would “appreciate the opportunity to collaborate further with the FCC to remove non-compliant devices that improperly use the FCC logo or falsely claim FCC certification. If any FCC non-compliant devices are identified, we seek to work with you to ensure they are not offered for sale,” said Huseman.

eBay has also replied to the FCC’s letter with a similar, tersely-worded statement, reiterating its commitment “to working in collaboration with the FCC to prevent the sale of these illegal products… We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the FCC to keep these illegal products off our site.”

It’s worth noting that, last year, FCC members, including O’Reilly, scrapped a proposal that would have made the cable box market more open and competitive.

This abandoned plan would also have made the hardware and service more affordable to users who commonly rent cable boxes from cable service providers for upwards of $200 a year.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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