Pirate TV boxes that falsely display the Federal Communications Commission logo should be removed from Amazon and eBay, an FCC commissioner told the companies last week.
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, part of the FCC’s Republican majority, wrote a letter to the Amazon and eBay CEOs asking them to crack down on set-top boxes that violate FCC rules.
Amazon quickly responded, saying that it already takes steps to prevent sale of these products but that it is willing to step up enforcement if any such devices are still for sale on Amazon.
O’Rielly’s letter didn’t identify any specific products that need to be taken down from Amazon or eBay. O’Rielly wrote:
Disturbingly, some rogue set‐top 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. Although outside the jurisdiction of the Commission, it is equally troubling that many of these devices are being used to illegally stream copyrighted content, exacerbating the theft of billions of dollars in American innovation and creativity.
We asked O’Rielly’s office and the FCC for information on those nine set-top box distributors and will update this story if we get any details.
Amazon sued TV box makers
Amazon—which operates a major video streaming service—doesn’t need any convincing about copyright problems raised by pirate TV boxes. Amazon has teamed up with Netflix and major film studios to sue the makers of several hardware devices that can be used to view copyrighted videos without a subscription.
“We strictly prohibit the sale of IP-infringing and non-compliant products [on Amazon’s retail website],” Amazon Public Policy VP Brian Huseman wrote in a response to O’Rielly. Huseman continued:
In 2017, Amazon became the first online marketplace to prohibit the sale of streaming media players that promote or facilitate piracy. To prevent the sale of these devices, we proactively scan product listings for signs of potentially infringing products, and we also invest heavily in sophisticated, automated real-time tools to review a variety of data sources and signals to identify inauthentic goods. These automated tools are supplemented by human reviewers that conduct manual investigations. When we suspect infringement, we take immediate action to remove suspected listings, and we also take enforcement action against sellers’ entire accounts when appropriate.
Huseman said that 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.”
Amazon’s policy on the sale of streaming media players has provisions designed to prevent copyright infringement. “As part of the application process, you must send in a sample product for every model of streaming media player to Amazon” and submit detailed information about the product, Amazon says.
Amazon’s letter seems to indicate that the company doesn’t know which devices O’Rielly wants taken off the Amazon marketplace. “If any FCC non-compliant devices are identified, we seek to work with you to ensure they are not offered for sale,” Huseman wrote.
FCC can impose fines
The FCC logo is used to demonstrate compliance with the FCC’s equipment authorization requirements. The FCC can impose fines of up to $144,344 for each “continuing violation” that lasts at least eight days.
O’Rielly’s letter acknowledged that Amazon and eBay already have policies “to remove devices that are marketed as facilitating piracy” from their websites. Amazon has “prevented the sale of tens of thousands of unlawful devices” after conducting its own investigations or receiving notices of infringement from intellectual property rights holders, O’Rielly’s letter said. eBay “also removes devices that are reported as infringing from rights-holders and actively removes devices with red flag phrases like ‘never pay another cable bill’ or “fully loaded’ that suggests an infringing purpose,” O’Rielly wrote.
“Unfortunately, despite your good work in this area, devices continue to make it to consumers through your websites,” he continued. “Many of these devices contain harmful malware that will most certainly be passed on to the consumer. Moreover, the consumer may unwittingly believe that the device is lawful since they were able to purchase it from a legitimate company.”
O’Rielly’s letter then asked Amazon and eBay for “further cooperation” with the FCC to prevent sale of “non-FCC compliant devices or devices that fraudulently bear the FCC logo.”
“[I]f your company is made aware by the Commission, with supporting evidence, that a particular device is using a fraudulent FCC label or has not been appropriately certified and labeled with a valid FCC logo, I respectfully request that you commit to swiftly removing these products from your sites,” O’Rielly wrote.
As previously noted, Amazon’s response to O’Rielly made it clear that the company is willing to cooperate with the FCC. We contacted eBay about O’Rielly’s letter today and will update this story if we get a response.
UPDATE: eBay provided a statement to Ars, saying that it is “committed to working in collaboration with the FCC to prevent the sale of these illegal products.”
“As outlined in [O’Rielly’s] letter, eBay utilizes a variety of measures to prevent these products from being sold on our platform,” eBay’s statement said. “These include proactive filtering and manual site reviews to identify illegal products, as well as taking action on direct referrals received from the FCC. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the FCC to keep these illegal products off our site.”
ORielly fought plan to lower TV bills
While some hardware devices make it easy to illegally stream copyrighted video, some consumers just want an easier way to access the TV content that they have paid for and are legally entitled to watch. O’Rielly helped kill a plan that would have helped consumers use their TV subscriptions on streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV.
Cable and satellite TV customers often pay monthly rental fees for set-top boxes in addition to TV service charges. The FCC in 2016 nearly passed rules that could have lowered consumers’ bills by requiring cable and satellite TV providers to let customers watch all their TV channels on third-party devices.
The pay-TV providers opposed the proposal, and then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wasn’t able to secure enough votes.