Have US Customs Declared War on TV Boxes (and mini PCs)?

Customs are useful to make sure illegal or dangerous goods don’t reach customers, and they also “protect jobs” or “special interests” by applying tariffs to imports. If you’ve ever purchased goods out of your country or economic zone, the experience can range from flawless (no duties), to annoying (paying some taxes), up to really frustrating and depressing, if customs decide to have a closer look to your imported item. Most the time I don’t have any problems, especially since I try to be careful to stay below the limit (~$30 here) sometimes splitting my orders, a few times I have to pay custom duties and VAT, and once I got a call from UPS telling me my $100 mini PC was kept by customs (not sure why), and that the total cost to it get was unknown, but it will be at least $150 for handling and taxes, and sending it back to China would cost about the same… So finally, my customs office (not in the US) got a free mini PC to play with. I just exchanged a few emails with UPS, and never had to fill any forms during the whole process.
US_Customs_and_Border_Protection
This happened a while ago, so why am I writing about this now? First, I’ve recently read some articles that UK authorities had raided TV box resellers running modified to stream illegal content, so let’s say it’s fair game. But I also got a comment from a US based reader who ordered 10 Wintel W8 Pro mini PCs:

Just an update on Geek’s Wintel W8 Pro. I ordered 10 more and they were seized by US Customs and Border Patrol. They could not find any illegal aliens so they are now checking all “TV BOXES” as declared on the shipping paperwork from China to US. 6 weeks later I got a 7 page letter from them saying they were seized not detained. The reason given was a trademark violation printed on the bottom of the box that is for Microsoft Windows 10. It is sworn to be an illegal trademark by Microsoft. They give you several options I gave the letter to my attorney. It sounds like I may still be fined some money on this side. The good thing is I paid with PayPal and got my money back. Geek offered to go Dutch on the loss and I said no. They are mad at me and won’t respond to me after I sent them a copy of the letter. The government determined the value to be 83.30 per unit and not a gift as packaged worth $50.00 per case. If you deal with Geek read the fine print, it talks about going Dutch when things go south. Customs said they are checking ALL boxes labeled “TV BOXES” many companies ship them like that. You may want to be more creative if you want them. No more Windows for me. After having trouble with one box with Kaspersky it said there was something bad in the Windows program I called and was told you cant run anti virus with that version of windows. I bought a different one. I believe in anti-virus’s reducing problems. Geek claims if the US sends the boxes back to China I will face shipping fees, importation fees, taxes and duties to the Chinese government. Maybe I can post the 7 page letter or email it to anyone who is thinking of buying these. I don’t know what the posting rules are on this. Delete any part that cant be printed. Just trying to save people time and money and having every package from China now being inspected 100% and taped back up with green US Customs and border patrol tape for routers and keyboards and things like that. This never happened until these 10 were seized. For the record Geek claims this has not happened to anyone else but I know a guy who bought 1 unit from a different reseller and his was also marked “TV BOX” and was seized.

So it took his word and asked for that document. So basically, once US customs decide to seize your goods you have 5 options (CBP = Customs and Border Protection):

  1. I request that CBP consider my petition administratively before forfeiture proceedings are initiated
  2. I request that CBP consider my offer in comprise administratively before forfeiture proceedings are initiated
  3. I abandon the property, and I request that CBP begin administrative proceedings to forfeit the property.
  4. I request that CBP send my case for court action
  5. I request that CBP begin administrative proceedings to forfeit the property

If you’re not a lawyer and have not dealt with customs before, yet clearly understand what the 5 options mean and their implications, I congratulate you. So unless you simply decide to abandon the property, most people might need a lawyer to handle the case.

But let’s clearly see why the mini PCs were seized by checking the appendix.

Microsoft_Logo_Word_CustomsSo the “Wintel Set-Top Boxes” running Microsoft Windows have been seized because Microsoft Windows logo was shown on the package, as well as Microsoft trademark…. Wintel name was OK apparently… That appears to be completely ludicrous, as they have not investigated whether the system had a proper Windows license, so even if you’ve bought a mini PC with a proper Windows license (~$25 on this type of computers), your property may still be seized because the package describes what’s been installed… Maybe it was just a matter of adding a line with “Microsoft is a trademark of Microsoft corporation” on the package or documentation (as they even opened it), but it’s still harsh, and may feel like they just found a pretext to confiscate the devices. So blank packages might not be that bad after all. I guess Android boxes with “Kodi” logo may also be looked suspiciously by customs whether banned add-ons are installed or not.

The person who released the document also share some other tidbits with his experience:

I have spoken to several different  DHL warehouse workers and drivers and they say the Customs people are there everyday. Some they grab off the belt and put right on the trucks and others they open right there, look at them, tape them back up and allow them to continue on.

I spoke to Customs this morning …. I asked if it made a difference if the box was made from Android parts instead of Bill Gates and she said it makes no difference. I did not want to argue with her but she said these boxes are just for stealing cable TV.

Why can I buy a Zidoo X6 Pro on Amazon.com for $109.00 but I can’t buy it on a Chinese website for $70.00?>

So customs agents are apparently posted in couriers’ warehouses, at least some people working at the US Customs and Border Patrol believe that TV boxes (and any small computers) are made to steal content from cable providers, and the same exact product that can be bought on Amazon, can be seized for any reasons by customs if bought from outside the US…. Is that a war on TV boxes or an isolated incident? I don’t know, but that means if you’d like to be safe, you’d have to buy locally (likely at a higher price), and selecting TV boxes or mini PCs without trademarked logos or brands on the package may help going through customs…

Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.

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TLS
TLS
4 years ago

And this is what happens when clueless people get jobs with “power”…

blu
blu
4 years ago

Last item I got from GeekBuying (EU here) cost me a day in ‘clearing the goods’ from the customs, and the item was super trivial (in both nature and price), but of course the seller had mislabled the package in all possible ways. I can only imagine what it could have been if it was something worth a few K. So naturally I’m cautious of buying things from outside the EU — not worth the hassle.

Fossxplorer
Fossxplorer
4 years ago

So cable TV providers rule US & own customs?
Why the f*** would that dumb lady in the customs office say that to him? Is it her duty to protect cable TV companies?

clueless
clueless
4 years ago

this is stated by customs in a country that insists that guns don’t kill, people do.
this logic apparently don’t apply to TV boxes…

Fossxplorer
Fossxplorer
4 years ago

@Fossxplorer
Besides that, these boxes aren’t only made for that. I can play games, surf the web, read my emails, write documents etc.
So they should start blocking all computers coming into the country too, since likely all can run Kodi (hence steal cable TV), can’t they?

anon
anon
4 years ago

> No more Windows for me.

Love the ending.

zoobab
4 years ago

Just don’t use UPS nor DHL, they precharge customs fees in advance without telling you in advance the amount. They have a deal with the customs. Use standard and slow post.

kadajawi
kadajawi
4 years ago

Those were full on Windows computers. By her definition all computers are meant to pirate content? Riiiiight.

Varghese
Varghese
4 years ago

I thought US has a very liberal customs dept … Description is the main problem, some times you have to inform the seller not to use , PC ,Computer , TV , Radio etc because customs will think that these items are available locally ,and these guys are avoiding tax by importing it from china .. So ask the seller to use some fancy words , “electronic kits” ,” PCB components” as labels

theguyuk
theguyuk
4 years ago

Send them blank, no OS, then download OS on receipt

Use Linux, Openlec etc.

Google play lists Kodi.

Tell customs to keep offending box logo but send you the rest.

Use Android Phone, Phablet, Tablet and HDMI socket or Ezcast Dongle.

Have you asked customs if the will be removing the boxes off Amazon.

Etc.

Greg Dalton
4 years ago

The boxes are legal…Kodi software is legal…but when you sell them pre-loaded they’re illegal?

We’ve got the same problem in Canada right now. The courts are issuing injunctions against (16 so far) resellers who use the words “Free TV” in their Android TV box ads.

Wait til someone figures out you can load Kodi on a regular desktop PC…

Sander
Sander
4 years ago

As a Dutchman, I object against the expression “going Dutch”

I propose the Thai expression อเมริกันแชร์ , so “American Share”, as more appropriate …

😉

Sander
Sander
4 years ago

And more serious:

Is this about Customs thinking “it’s from China, so the software on it (like Windows) must be illegal”
Or is this about devices that can show content on the TV, and thus could pirate TV-content?

Marius
4 years ago

I used to get tablets and phones without any customs in Romania where I used to live. Now I get the same here in Bulgaria but I haven’t really ordered anything expensive yet, we’ll see.

Lioric
Lioric
4 years ago

I would suggest re-reading the article. Here people are talking about piracy, some agenda from Customs, Kodi(?) and who seems to rule the world, but this line: “The reason given was a trademark violation printed on the bottom of the box that is for Microsoft Windows 10” seems tell the whole story. From the Microsfot image usage guidelines: “The Microsoft logo cannot be used in any manner that would imply that any non-Microsoft goods, services, or Web sites are sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated with Microsoft.” “The Microsoft logo must always be accompanied by the registered trademark symbol (®).”… Read more »

NIPSZX
NIPSZX
4 years ago

During the republican debate, the candidates spoke about customs and tariffs on imported goods. Trump was adamant on stopping China from shipping cheaper and better alternatives. But so far, all of Trump’s predictions have become losing prophecies. He first said the U.S. economy would tank and that sure hasn’t happened and actually has only become stronger since his prediction. He also said the “Brexit” would be a global financial failure and the markets are even higher now than they were before the “Brexit.” It seems everything Trump says is a “Doom and Gloom” fake Youtube video. So, since Trump said… Read more »

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

Glad to see some good ideas about “deals” made with DHL and UPS, I think I will cross them off the list. UPS already was. I remember how much money I lost during those strikes. I had to rent big trucks and get my own product. As if they could not afford to pay their drivers. They have since closed the UPS drop offs in our area. There is one left only open a few hours per day. Who are some of the other shippers not in bed with Customs? Since we gave up trying to catch the illegal aliens… Read more »

Phils
Phils
4 years ago

The problem with the UK seizure is that the arrests are likely to fail prosecution because at this present time the EU court has ruled that streaming is legal, so the Police will have problems. The other, more interesting aspect of this is that both ebay and Amazon continue to have thousands of fully loaded box listings, where nothing at all is being done to prosecute them for their part in assisting the sale of so called illegal boxes. This, for me brings in to light the real reason for trying to stop them and it has little to do… Read more »

Mike Ware
Mike Ware
4 years ago

US customs actually is very liberal compared to other countries. I’m a bonded importer, and once you know how the system works, you are “usually” fine. It appears the problem here is use of the Windows logo and even just the Trademarked term ‘Microsoft’. This is pretty stupid, IF the device has a legit copy of windows, then fair use allows you to say it comes with Microsoft Windows–though customs will make you prove it’s a legit copy, which could be impossible for a consumer. The quick fix is for these Chinese companies to stop using the Windows Logo on… Read more »

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

Mike, Don’t forget the other guy at the bottom of the article had his single computer seized that he bought from a different seller that was a $400 super mini computer intel i7 and another was not in the article because a 3rd guy had 5 Wintels W8 Pros detained or seized on the same day as the first. So it has been 7 or 8 weeks for that guy not to receive his package of 5 or a letter telling him his were seized or inspected and returned. I hope it maybe just this city but I doubt it… Read more »

Mike Ware
Mike Ware
4 years ago

@Tom I may need to re-read the article 🙂
My guess is it is a Trademark issue, if so. I imagine Geekbuying will be quick to start sending out units without packing (as most don’t say windows on the units themselves).

Once you get stopped by customs, it can be a hassle (basically impossible), or simple to fix (I’ve seen both); usually for former.

Sander
Sander
4 years ago

To add some fuel to the fire:

“Wintel W8 Pro. I ordered 10 more” … “The government determined the value to be 83.30 per unit and not a gift as packaged worth $50.00 per case.”

I might be wrong, but it looks like the government did their work very well?

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

Sander, Think about what branch of the government is doing this. US Customs and Border Protection. Custom maybe but Border Protection? Lets be real we have over 30+million illegal Aliens mostly from Mexico that have more rights and benefits than Americans. We even pay for their College but not our own. An illegal alien can get caught with 100 kilos of marijuana and released on his signature with whatever name he uses that day. He never goes back to court and gets caught again a month later and gets released again and again. If an American did this once he… Read more »

barky
barky
4 years ago

Tom, you watch too much FOX News. 100% of what you posted is incorrect. Now retired, I did ‘Admin, stamp & clear” for a large warehouse ‘customs clearance’ company in Compton CA (for 37 years). It was a great job, there were lots of Mexican workers involved, and they were all good, extremely trustworthy, legalized family people. No nonsense, no slackers, and no dope… many of whom are retired now as well. They never had more benefits than US Citizens, not ever. OK. FYI. US Customs will usually tag & hold imported electronics that arrive in multiple units that appear… Read more »

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

So it’s OK to buy them from Amazon or ebay but not China and you forgot the biggest culprit, Walmart. Go on their website and tell me how many different brands of these same TV boxes with Kodi and XBMC and Android, etc. on them. Why aren’t they getting “tagged”? So there no illegal alien Mexicans in California? Thanks for clearing that up. How did Fox News stage the riots they just had when Trump went to California and they had all those brown faced people waving Mexican flags while burning our Police cars and destroying property. Yes they show… Read more »

Mike Ware
Mike Ware
4 years ago

Barky,
I can’t imagine the tariffs on these are more than a couple bucks each. I regularity import $30-60k containers and my import fees are normally less than $500, per. Usually the only thing I get really dinged for a paper products like cardboard boxes.

I don’t know the HS code for these, but with China’s trading status, I suspect there’s actually zero tariff on them (though I could be wrong).

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

If anyone knows the correct procedure to buy these boxes I think it would help everyone that reads these articles. We probably all buy electronics from China and had an interest in electronics or would not be reading this. Say for example I choose a box that does not have a Windows logo on it. The Chinese write in their fine print that they declare the value at $50.00 per box no matter what it is. Then they say the box is a gift. I found this out after having my boxes detained. I asked them to put the actual… Read more »

theguyuk
theguyuk
4 years ago

You are mixing to many problems together so know wonder you confuse others and yourself.

If you buy from abroad then you have to educate yourself on the customs import laws.

Not knowning killing some is illegal is no excuse form murder. Not knowing the law, is not a get free card.

Customs did not make you order the goods.

theguyuk
theguyuk
4 years ago

UK eBay advice but not sure it is up to date..

Buying from China – Do You Pay UK Import Tax & VAT?

http://www.ebay.co.uk/gds/Buying-from-China-Do-You-Pay-UK-Import-Tax-VAT-/10000000017669493/g.html

theguyuk
theguyuk
4 years ago

Not known if up to date or true, found by Google search.

Customs & Taxes When Importing from China – The Ultimate Guide

http://www.chinaimportal.com/blog/customs-taxes-importing-china-ultimate-guide/

theguyuk
theguyuk
4 years ago

Last link . I will think no more on this today.

http://www.dutycalculator.com/

ben
ben
4 years ago

I live in the same city as this unfortunate buyer and was about to order another windows box from the same seller, never had a problem before, my orders were mostly for 1 at a time but I did place an order for 15 once. Never had a problem before so it seems Customs may have changed their stance which is worrisome. May have to change to a US supplier at a higher price. 🙁

Tony
Tony
4 years ago

@Phils

The seizures in the UK were not for streaming being illegal they were for copyright and trademark violations.

The companies affected were advertising their products using terms such as “Sky TV”, “Virgin Media”, “BT Sports” and “English Premier League”.

It is this that has got them into trouble and frankly they deserve whatever they get for being so stupid as to try to sell these boxes using someone else’s trademarks and copyrighted terms.

Tony
Tony
4 years ago

Yes.
Unfortunately the mass market are still dumb about this kind of thing so if it’s not blatantly stated in the advert then they don’t know anything about it.

Lots of other companies still selling boxes. Most sensible people stopped using these terms in their adverts on eBay, Amazon and Gumtree in the UK following these raids. Sky and the Premier League are actively targeting people using their trademarks. They will always win these cases as it isn’t about the legality of streaming.

Theguyuk
Theguyuk
3 years ago

The sale of fully loaded Kodi boxes is facing leagal test in UK.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-37474595

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