EchoStar Sues Box Dealer

EchoStar Communications has gone to court against a California set-top distributor that it claims is using “pirate software” in a scheme that allegedly brings unauthorized Dish Network programming to an estimated 2 million homes.

“With the Internet as a sword, pirates developed a new way to steal Dish Network programming by using so-called 'free-to-air’ receivers,” EchoStar said in a 19-page copyright suit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California.

Trying to clamp down on signal theft, EchoStar and NagraStar, which provides the direct-broadcast satellite provider’s descrambling “smart cards,” filed suit July 13 against set-top distributor ViewTech of Oceanside, Calif., and its founder and president, Jung Kwak.

ViewTech distributes “free-to-air” set-top boxes, which can receive satellite signals that are either not scrambled or are scrambled but are available free of charge. This typically includes ethnic and religious programming.

EchoStar charged in its lawsuit that distributors of free-to-air receivers have found a way to circumvent Dish Network’s access-security system with those units by developing “firmware and components within each unit that will accept and receive illegal pirate software. … Once this technology is downloaded or 'flashed’ into the FTA receiver, the unit will illegally receive Dish Network programming.”

The suit also claims that in a new twist, pirates are now not only loading illegal pirate software onto FTA receivers so customers can get Dish service for free, but are also “distributing the requisite piracy technology and information to select individuals on Web sites or Internet discussion forums, who then offer the pirate software to consumers for download.”

Officials at ViewTech couldn’t be reached for last week. But a lawyer who identified himself as counsel for the distributor posted a letter on the Web site EliteCoders, claiming that the company and Kwak will “vigorously defend” themselves “against the baseless claims” made by EchoStar and NagraStar.

“ViewTech and Mr. Kwak are confident that they will prevail as the lawsuit proceeds,” attorney Manuel de la Cerra said in his letter on the Web site.

Free-to-air pirates have distributed their illegal services and products to an estimated 2 million households in the United States and Canada, according to The Carmel Group, a California-based satellite industry consulting firm.