As broadband internet has become faster, cheaper and more reliable, cutting the cord has become a worldwide trend, when it comes to live streaming and on-demand video content.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the popularity of Android boxes boxes has grown in the past few years, as consumers attempt to sever ties with cable providers, opting instead for subscription based and ‘free’ entertainment streams.

But are these devices legal?

Technically, they are not, although the devices may be used to access legitimate content.

What makes Android boxes illegal in Trinidad and Tobago is that they facilitate copyright infringement. The Copyright Act Chap. 82:80 protects both audio-visual works and broadcasts, and as this country is a party to the major international treaties on copyright, foreign works and broadcasts are also protected under our law.

The live broadcast streams available on Android boxes are not designed for the local market. The Act gives content owners (local or foreign) certain rights in section 25(1):

A broadcasting organisation shall have the exclusive right to do, authorise or prohibit any of the following acts:

(a)  the rebroadcasting of its broadcast;

(b)  the communication to the public of its broadcast;

(c)  the fixation of its broadcast;

(d)  the reproduction of a fixation of its broadcast.

Section 34A(1) of the Act also specifies offences which relate to the importation, sale and distribution of Android boxes and similar devices:

The following acts shall constitute infringements of copyright and neighbouring rights:

(a) the manufacture or importation for sale or rental of any device or means, specifically designed or adapted to circumvent any device or means intended to prevent or restrict reproduction of a work or to impair the quality of copies made (the latter device or means hereinafter referred to as “copy-protection or copy-management device or means”); and

(b) the manufacture or importation for sale or rental of any device or means that is susceptible to enable or assist the reception of an encrypted programme, which is broadcast or otherwise communicated to the public, including by satellite, by those who are not entitled to receive the programme.

There are countless merchants in Trinidad and Tobago who offer ‘fully loaded’ Android boxes for sale. Such persons are all liable to fines of up to $250,000, ten years imprisonment and damages in the civil courts.

So what happens if someone already owns one of these devices and uses it to access illegal content?

While the law makes clear provisions for persons or entities who distribute or make such streams available to the public, there are also remedies available to content owners that may impact on individual consumers. Section 38 of the Act provides that:

The Court shall have the authority—

  1. (a)  to grant injunctions to prohibit the committing,or continuation of committing, of an infringement of any right protected under this Act;

This can include an Order compelling internet service providers (ISPs) to block websites and feeds of illegal content.

As a result, consumers may no longer be able to access such services if they are blocked by local ISPs

Successful litigation in this regard has been brought by content owners in the United Kingdom and throughout Latin America.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the threat of litigation against ISPs by content owners may convince ISPs to take this action voluntarily.

Of course, Android boxes may also be used to view legal on-demand content, such as Netflix (which has programming specifically licensed for this country) and YouTube.

About The Author Jason Nathu

Jason Nathu is an attorney-at-law, admitted to practice in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. He is currently a full-time Tutor at the Hugh Wooding Law School.