The Fire Stick from Amazon is the newest piece of tech to captivate the consumer market -- and it's also turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.
When used as intended, the Fire Stick makes it possible to stream videos from laptops to televisions without having to own a Smart TV or know which cables to connect. The Fire Stick takes over and handles the job wirelessly.
However, consumers have also found that they can alter, or "jailbreak," the device, allowing them to watch an unlimited number of movies without paying a dime. They can see movies that would normally require a subscription service to Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix and even access movies that are still showing at full price in the theaters.
Make no mistake: This is entirely illegal -- and the excuse that "everyone is doing it" goes over in front of a judge about as well as it did if you ever tried to use it with your Mom or Dad when you were a kid.
Under Ohio law, you could possibly be charged with motion picture piracy -- a misdemeanor on the first offense, but a felony each time after -- or the unlawful use of a telecommunications device. That law makes it illegal to even possess an item if you intend to use it criminally.
Even if Ohio isn't interested in prosecuting you, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) might. Before you decide that the FBI couldn't possibly care or know how to track down an individual user who is just filching a few movies for his or her personal enjoyment -- not selling them on the black market -- consider the fact that prosecutions did happen over the illegal downloading of music files, or MP3s, from certain file sharing sites. It wasn't just the music industry that was upset at the loss of profits -- every free MP3 that was downloaded cost the government tax money as well.
The FBI considers the illegal use of a Fire Stick to be criminal copyright infringement -- a crime most people probably aren't even aware exists. However, each downloaded movie is a separate offense, and each offense could net you a $250,000 fine and five years in prison.
If you find yourself in trouble over a Fire Stick, find an attorney who handles white collar criminal defense issues and discuss your case.
Source: codes.ohio.gov, "Chapter 2913.01 Theft and Fraud," accessed June 16, 2017