DirecTV Accused of Extortion

DirecTV Inc.’s national campaign against satellite-TV piracy was the target of a racketeering lawsuit filed this week in federal court, AP reported Friday.

The class-action fraud suit centers on letters the direct-broadcast satellite provider sent to suspected hackers whose names it acquired from credit-card receipts and store records, AP said.

According to the suit, DirecTV and parent Hughes Electronics Corp. used the letters to intimidate people into paying $3,500 each or more in order to avoid being sued for piracy or signal theft. The suit added that at least 10,000 people have paid settlements since mid-2002, and many did so under duress, according to AP.

DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer told AP the lawsuit is without merit and the company has no intention of halting the letters.

He would not say how much DirecTV has received in settlements, only adding that a "substantial number" of the people who contacted the DBS operator after receiving the letters agreed to payments.

"Once they realize they have broken a federal law and we are serious, more often than not, they will settle with us," Mercer told AP.