Malta was among 12 countries affected by a major Italian police operation that shut down 5,500 illegal live-streaming sites and services this week.
On Tuesday, the Guardia di Finanza – Italy’s police force responsible for financial crime - seized the equivalent of €10.6 million in equipment and assets from 23 suspects in what it dubbed Operation Perfect Storm.
The force said its technology fraud unit had collaborated with Eurojust, the EU's Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, to fight audiovisual piracy through Internet Protocol Television, known as IPTV.
Authorities searched 100 sites in Italy, seized 334 Paypal accounts and issued 30 garnishee orders as part of the operation.
Equipment and money was also seized in Malta, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Slovenia, Sweden, Belgium, Romania, the Netherlands and France.
Eurojust said on Wednesday that following the shutting down of the 5,500 computer servers in these countries, online streaming services have now been blocked for customers in Italy, who watched the television feed through cheap set-top boxes, paying far below market subscription fees.
Hundreds of thousands of Italian IPTV users reported that their TV sets displayed a warning that the site through which they were illegally viewing the program had been seized.
Similarly, several people in Malta reported a “nationwide” clampdown on IPTV software, probably related to the Italian operation.
While the crackdown did not impact all IPTV service providers in Malta, the affected ones informed customers that the situation will be brought under control in a few days.
Potential new customers were asked to call in a couple of days to subscribe for the service.
Police did not respond to a request to comment on the crackdown.
Tuesday’s Italy-led operation follows a similar one in September of last year by the Italian desk at Eurojust. Back then 200 servers were taken down, in what was described at the time as the "world's largest" video piracy crackdown.
Copyright holders, including major European pay-TV channels and American film studios have long been complaining that the large-scale piracy deprives them of tens of millions of euro.
Earlier this week Eurojust coordinated another operation against large-scale piracy and copyright infringements in Switzerland. In total, 11 servers were taken down in France, Germany, Monaco, The Netherlands and Switzerland, all offering illegal access to films and TV series without the consent of the rights-holders and depriving the legitimate businesses of over €1.9 million.
Three suspects were arrested, the website promoting the illegal service was blocked and eight bank accounts in Switzerland seized.