Skip to main content

Federal Court Slaps Satellite Signal Pirate With $51 Million Judgment

A federal court in Florida
has slapped Robert Ward with a $51 million summary judgment for distributing
software that aided in the theft of DISH Network signals.

In the process, it left no doubt that it believes the Communications
Act prohibition on "any electronic, mechanical, or other device or
equipment" that aids in the unauthorized decryption of a satellite
programming" includes software.

According to DISH, the court held that posting software on
the Internet that allows people to receive DISH signals for free violates the
Communications Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and that
damages could be calculated according to the number of people who downloaded
the software (rather than how many people actually used it to steal signals.

Divvying up that $52 million will be DISH Network, co-owned
equipment/services company EchoStar Technologies and NagraStar, the EchoStar
co-venture with Kudelski Group that supplies the conditional access security technology
to protect satellite signals from theft.

The decision, rendered by the U.S. District Court for the
Middle District of Florida, took aim at piracy software marketed as "Thedssguy
and Veracity" that allowed viewers to bypass NagraStar's conditional access
security and receive premium as well as regular channels that meant lost
potential revenue of over $70 per month per viewer that did not have to pay to
get its programming.

The court said DISH had provided "significant
independent admissible evidence of Ward's violations of the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act and the Communications Act."

The DMCA prohibits the dissemination of technology
"designed or produced for circumventing a measure that controls access to
a copyrighted work," is marketed for that function, and has limited
commercial use beyond that function. DISH argued for summary judgment, saying
there was irrefutable evidence that that was exactly what Ward was doing. The
court agreed.

The court said the DMCA was the relevant statute under which
to award damages. It actually levied the minimum fine of $200 per act of
circumvention (it could have dunned Ward up to $2,500 per). But with a
documented 255,741 files provided, it added up quickly to $51,148,200, plus a
permanent injunction. 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.