Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Lawyer urges caution over 'Netflix killer' online streaming service

The man behind the company marketing the "Bye Bye Sky" streaming set-top boxes in New Zealand says  he considers the service to be legal. Photo / 123RF
The man behind the company marketing the "Bye Bye Sky" streaming set-top boxes in New Zealand says he considers the service to be legal. Photo / 123RF

A streaming service provider marketed as "Bye Bye Sky" and a "Netflix killer" is selling fast in New Zealand, despite an internet piracy expert's warnings that it could be infringing copyright.

NZ Streaming Boxes, branding itself as Bye Bye Sky, has sold 450 of its units in the two months it has been operating.

The boxes plug into customers' televisions and allow them to stream online content.

On the company's website under the banner "Say goodbye to Sky and their high fees!", it states the box gives viewers access to "tens of thousands of channels".

Director Joe, surname withheld, told the Herald the box has a one-off cost of $140, and runs on open source Android software.

"The idea for me came out of the UK ... they're absolutely massive over there. The thing that struck me was the convenience of having everything in one place."

Viewers are able to access live streams of channels from around the world.

"No content is hosted by ourselves or in New Zealand and we do not have control of any of the content that is viewed. Our offering is more around the service than the tangible product," Joe said.

"Our market proposition is that we take all the customisation work out for you.

"Should a stream go down somewhere we've always made sure you're able to watch the match that you want to watch or Keeping Up With The Kardashians or whatever it may be."

Joe said demand for the devices has been high.

"I just can't get the boxes in quick enough, everything's constantly on back order."

He admits the brand name is "inflammatory", but it was a ploy to encourage awareness of his product particularly given there are similar products sold in New Zealand that have failed to generate sales.

"The marketing has been poor, no one knows [what] they offer. Because it is a very new way to watch content ... people don't understand it."

He said there was no intent to steal any of Sky's content, although it was possible to view content that Sky had exclusive rights to broadcast in New Zealand, such as All Blacks test matches.

"But you'd be getting them with English commentary. People sticking their phones in front of the Joseph Parker fight and broadcasting that media, I do not agree with and do not condone that.

"The only New Zealand channels available are the free-to-air channels."

The boxes have been sold to customers across the country from Central Otago up to Northland, and Joe said he was "shocked" to see that over a third of his customers were aged between 50 and 65.

People were buying into the service for a "mixed bag" of reasons.

"Generally it's a Netflix killer above all else ... [Netflix] content in the US far [exceeds what] you can get in New Zealand."

Joe said he hasn't been contacted by Sky or Netflix.

"Whilst I have yet to have contact from Sky directly, I have seen Sky and their technology partners collecting information online about myself and the product."

Internet piracy expert Rick Shera worked on a similar case when he acted for Call Plus, the owner of Orcon and Slingshot, in defence of action taken by Sky, TVNZ, MediaWorks and Lightbox owner Spark in regards to Call Plus' Global Mode service.

It allowed people to access US Netflix and other international content usually blocked to New Zealanders. The case was ultimately settled and the service was removed.

Shera told the Herald there are "similarities" between Call Plus' service and the one offered by Bye Bye Sky.

"You first look at 'is there a breach by the people who are viewing this material', then if there is a breach then you go to 'is the person who is facilitating that therefore liable for copyright infringement because of assisting or authorising the infringement'.

"It would seem likely I would've thought that whoever is getting that stream and putting it on the internet is breaching copyright ... therefore everyone who views it is also infringing copyright."

Shera said if Bye Bye Sky was simply offering the box without customisation they would not be liable for copyright infringement, but it appeared they had been customising them specifically so customers could access copyrighted content.

"The software is Android software so it's open source, from that I take it that what they've done is customise the software so that it targets certain sites where they can target these streams."

Shera said there were "no [legal] precedents" in New Zealand or internationally in relation to the provision of online streaming boxes.

He suspected Sky would be looking to take action regarding the Bye Bye Sky brand name.

Bye Bye Sky director Joe said the legality of his service was a "grey area", but he considers it to be legal.

"But I'm not a judge, and really a case needs to be tested. I hope it's not tested against me, we will see."

Sky chief executive John Fellet said he has "no comment at this time". The Herald has approached Netflix for comment.

- NZ Herald

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