The Trinidad & Tobago Government Threatens Streaming Pirates With Imprisonment Sentences

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated September 24, 2021

The Government of Trinidad & Tobago appears determined to fight copyright infringement and piracy and has published a notice to warn those involved in selling or even using illegal streaming devices of the potential consequences. These would include fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment sentences that could reach up to ten years.

Apart from the fact that these sentences seem to be overly asymmetric to the importance and impact of the crime committed, the warnings have also created confusion to the citizens of the country due to their vague wording.

In the notice published by the telecommunications authority (TATT) and the intellectual property office (TTIPO) of the Caribbean country on Facebook, we can see the mention of USB sticks and small media boxes that can be connected to TVs, helping their users circumvent technological protection measures that are in place to prevent the illegal access and/or distribution of copyright-protected content.

Source: Facebook

As there are many legitimate TV sticks and set-top boxes that aren’t inherently used for copyright violation acts - like the Amazon Fire TV dongles, for example - users were confused by the warning. Some reported fearing to continue using their Smart TVs, their Chromecasts, and their Firesticks, as nobody was sure about how far the government would take this. Also, as many pointed out, from a strictly legal perspective, even smartphones and computers would qualify for seizure.

The authority could have chosen to direct this warning and the associated threats to those who sell illegal streaming services. However, including the users and the basis of devices instead of internet platforms is creating confusion. We don’t know how strictly the authority is planning to follow on this warning, but after the response of the community, TATT has provided the following clarification:

Please note that you can continue to use your Amazon FireStick and your Smart TV to view free websites and apps such as YouTube. You can also use these devices to view Netflix, Disney Plus, etc. Once you are legitimately paying for/ subscribing to that service. However, the use of these devices – Amazon FireStick, smart TV, tablet, phone, etc. – to download apps and access content such as TV shows, sports events, movies, etc. illegally without paying for that content is a breach of the Copyright Act 82:80.

So, the authority wants to narrow down the targeting to devices that use piracy-enabling tools and either come with such tools pre-configured by the seller or have them installed by the users. Still, considering that many buyers of these devices may not have the technical knowledge to determine what could be legal and what may be a fraud, threatening them with 10 years of imprisonment isn’t the best approach.

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