Developer shuts down Roku app after admitting piracy

(Image via Free2View TV/Roku, Graphic by The Desk)

The developer of a popular underground Roku app that offered free access to streaming and over-the-air broadcast channels has shut down his project after admitting he did not have the legal right to distribute some streams offered through the service.

In a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday, Free2View (F2V) TV developer Georges Brunet said it was not his intention to pirate the copyrighted signals of commercial broadcasters, but admitted he didn’t obtain permission from the providers of certain live streams before offering them to his customers.

F2V TV launched as an underground project two years ago. Last year, the service was officially distributed through the Roku Channel Store after Roku announced it would stop supporting private, non-developer channels on its platform.

The majority of the content offered on F2V TV originated with streams that were distributed through Samsung TV Plus, Redbox and Vizio SmartCast Plus, according to an audit of the F2V TV service by The Desk.

In addition to those channels, F2V TV provided streaming access to around a half-dozen over-the-air broadcast signals programmed by Weigel Broadcasting, including Me TV, Story Television, Heroes & Icons (H&I), Start TV and Decades.

For months, Brunet told F2V TV users that the Weigel channels were “exclusive” to the service and were offered through a “special arrangement” with a program distributor. The channels were available free of charge on F2V TV until earlier this month, when Brunet received a notice from a New York-based law firm saying they were “aware of no such arrangement” to carry the channels on the service, according to a copy of the legal notice obtained by The Desk.

“By streaming Weigel network and their copyrighted programming over the Internet without authorization, you are in violation of the U.S. Copyright Act,” the legal notice issued by an attorney with Covington Law Firm read. The letter demanded Weigel stop offering the Weigel channels “in any form, but not limited to, any retransmission via Internet streaming or apps available for electronic devices, such as Roku.”

Brunet complied with the notice within several days by moving the channels to a password-protected section of the F2V TV app. He also removed other streams of over-the-air signals, including Cozi TV and Antenna TV.

On Tuesday, Brunet told The Desk that the infringing Weigel streams originated with LocalBTV, an online service that streams niche broadcast networks over the Internet for free. He ultimately admitted he used a virtual private network to make it seem as if he was accessing the service in New York City, which allowed him to examine the source code and pull the streaming links needed for his F2V TV service.

Brunet also said he obtained content streams from Samsung TV Plus and other free, ad-supported streaming services without first asking permission from the content providers or the platforms before he re-distributed them through F2V TV.

In a lengthy statement published early Wednesday morning to a private Facebook group, Brunet said he was “not honest with the way I was operating the Free2View TV Project” and announced he would end the service.

“What I did was illegal, according to [copyright] laws,” Brunet said. “But what I also did was never, ever intended as malicious or hurtful.”

Brunet said he asked Roku this week to remove the F2V TV app from its Channel Store as well as a secondary app called Free2View TV: Volume 2. On Wednesday, both apps displayed a message to viewers saying the service was no longer operational. His decision to shut down the service was first reported Wednesday morning by Ryan Downey, a writer who covers the streaming media industry.

Brunet said the F2V TV service generated under $1,500 in donations through PayPal and Buy Me A Coffee. In his statement, Brunet said donors were “entitled to your money back,” but offered to donate the cash to a charity “in lieu of offering dozens of refunds.”

A spokesperson for Buy Me A Coffee said the company does not allow its platform to be used for direct sales of pirated content, but that using it to raise donations in conjunction with a website was not typically against its terms of service. The spokesperson said they would review Brunet’s use of their platform, but did not offer additional details. An inquiry sent to PayPal has not yet been returned as of Wednesday afternoon.