Mass Extortion
June 17, 2003 7:22 PM   Subscribe

DirecTV Suing Consumers Directly Everyone identified in those records was sent a letter by DirecTV promising that the company would forgo litigation if they would surrender their illegal access devices, promise never to buy them again, and pay damages of approximately $3,500, Mercer said. Many people complied. Article here. So far, 8,700 consumers who balked have been hit with federal civil suits alleging violations of the Federal Communications Act and federal wiretap statutes. That includes approximately 5,000 lawsuits filed nationwide in May, Mercer said. Newspapers in Richmond, Va., and Allentown, Pa., recently have reported the filing of numerous federal signal theft suits in those states by DirecTV.
posted by Niahmas (50 comments total)
 
Buying something a little bit dodgy?

Please remember to pay cash.
posted by Blue Stone at 7:31 PM on June 17, 2003


Oh Canada. Satellite signals don't stop at the 49th ;) .
posted by kremb at 7:49 PM on June 17, 2003


Article Here.

Just in case you missed it the first time in the FPP. ;)

Seriously, though: anyone else compelled to sit back and ask why this news should make them more interested in subscribing to DirecTV? When I hear about the progress of a company, as a consumer I like to hear "lowered prices" or "added expanded coverage to the Denver area..." not "invoked civil litigation against eight thousand people."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:57 PM on June 17, 2003


Actually yes, it would make me more likely to subscribe to DirecTV - assuming I want or need satellite TV in the first place.

After all, if DirecTV sat idly by and let thousands of people grab the same service for free that I was being asked to pay for, I'd be a fool to pay for it, right? So when they don't sit idly by, my incentive to be honest increases.
posted by anser at 8:26 PM on June 17, 2003


This was bound to come up, but what about this as compared to downloading mp3's? Are you physically stealing anything from DirectTV when you pirate? Do you actually cause them to loose money when you pirate? If people don't mind DirectTV doing this, why are they so anti-RIAA? Just honest questions for the masses.
posted by jmd82 at 8:33 PM on June 17, 2003


Interesting question. My guesses as to the pro DirectTV/anti-RIAA discrepancy: you have to physically acquire something that is illegal to swipe DirectTV; the (relatively) ephemeral entertainment value of an MP3 vs. pirated television; and the RIAA's attempt to squelch an emerging technology rather than reexamine their business model (much like Hollywood vs. the VCR in the early 80s).

Not to defend the pilfering of MP3s...
posted by herc at 8:51 PM on June 17, 2003


Remember, the airwaves belong to the people (hence the existence of the FCC), but passively listening to the airwaves hitting your property is a crime.
posted by NortonDC at 8:56 PM on June 17, 2003


In re mp3's...

I figure I've bought at LEAST 500 albums in my life, and I estimate that 75% of the songs on those albums sucked (and that 75% is a gift, trust me). Figure 10 songs an album, that's 3750 shitty songs that I've already bought and paid for. I've downloaded perhaps 750, that's 3000 songs the music companies still owe me. And it's not like I'm downloading new stuff, for chrissakes, I'm pulling the friggin Busboys right now.

Yes, I know it's a wild rationalization! What of it???
posted by UncleFes at 9:26 PM on June 17, 2003


but passively listening to the airwaves hitting your property is a crime

I think this is an interesting point.
Let's say I was an electronics expert (I wish) and had the wherewithall to go and buy all the individual components I would need and then built my own DirecTV receiver. DirecTV would have no way of knowing I had done this, unlike those folks who bought their receivers, described in the link. Given that I was just passively receiving electromagnetic waves arriving at my house, would this make me equally legally liable if DirecTV were to somehow find out?
posted by normy at 9:56 PM on June 17, 2003


Yes, because the laws in this area are anything but helpful to people. They are written for companies, by companies. It's more profitable to have easy distribution (airwaves) but you don't want to lose money by people just taking it, so you criminalize it. Sorta like putting a pile of DVDs in the street and a box saying pay for these, and then sending the people that don't to prison. Welcome to Freedom-Land.
posted by rhyax at 10:07 PM on June 17, 2003


passively listening to the airwaves hitting your property is a crime.

Except that the DSS crackers aren't 'passively listening'. To steal DirecTV requires a good bit of directed effort. Maybe a closer analogy would be to people who hack into electrical boxes or gas mains to steal power or natural gas.

But I've always been conflicted about the ethics of this. I understand why DirecTV doesn't want it, but (unlike the electric or gas company) they're sending signal into my airspace, unasked, without any contract with me. Why isn't this like the advertising papers that show up on my front walk? Why can't I do what I want with it? If DirecTV doesn't want it cracked, let them make it uncrackable.

And before you ask, no, I am not a DSS cracker. Why? Because it feels sleazy. Regardless of the argument above, it feels like stealing to me, so I don't do it.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:09 PM on June 17, 2003


Well, normy, I think that's how it used to be, back in the day when a receiver dish was the size of your average back yard ... then somebody decided to encrypt the signals and, well, there you have it.

Heh. Look at the only word in quotes in this brief history of the industry.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:15 PM on June 17, 2003


in the u.s., they've also criminalized passively listening to the cellular bands. the legislatively blessed corporate theft of an entire chunk of spectrum.
posted by quonsar at 10:30 PM on June 17, 2003


The distinction I'm drawing is active or transmitting versus passive or listening. With regard to the airwaves, theft is only possible with transmission, because only transmission can deny the airwaves to someone else. DirectTV isn't suing anyone for transmitting, they're suing them for listening to and interpretting what is explicitly the property of the people, the airwaves.
posted by NortonDC at 10:51 PM on June 17, 2003


That's not the point. The fact that the people own the airwaves doesn't mean that everything broadcast over the airwaves automatically belongs to the people. The content can be private (i.e. cell phone conversations) or copyrighted (e.g. basically any TV or radio broadcast).
posted by kindall at 11:14 PM on June 17, 2003


It's rather akin to standing on a street corner bellowing out a script one's just finished writing, and then suing the ass off everyone who happened to overhear you...

Or pissing into the community well, and then suing everyone who drinks from it for infringing upon your DNA...

Or farting into the wind and suing everyone downwind for stealing your natural resources...

Or... well, I suppose that'll do. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 12:19 AM on June 18, 2003


they're sending signal into my airspace, unasked, without any contract with me.

so, is this spam? [/silly]
posted by MzB at 5:00 AM on June 18, 2003


Heh. Look at that other only word in quotes in this brief history of the industry.
posted by fatbaq at 5:50 AM on June 18, 2003


The fact that the people own the airwaves doesn't mean that everything broadcast over the airwaves automatically belongs to the people.

Isn't this just one possible, very pro-industry view? No trace of irony here, just pure curiosity. Isn't this akin to saying: this lawn is yours, but that doesn't mean I can't park my truck in it?

The content can be private (i.e. cell phone conversations)

Again, no trace of irony and a lot of curiosity - there are several issues regarding this, but I'll sum them up in one: arguably private cell phone conversations are still between owners of the airwaves. Specific conversations belong to the parties involved, but no owner is barred from using the airwaves for his or her own similar needs. Maybe this is real dumb, but I think I can see how the public rights are balanced there.

or copyrighted (e.g. basically any TV or radio broadcast).

This I have a problem with, again coming from the "more curious than knowledgeable" point of view. Doesn't copyright affect "copies"? How is watching content carried on the public airwaves copyright infringement? I do think that if I walk into a bookshop and read a book without buying it, I'm not infringing on anyone's copyright, although I can get kicked out of the premises due to the store's policy. But in this case, nobody can get kicked out of the premises. at leats in theory.
posted by magullo at 5:52 AM on June 18, 2003


WTF? "at leats in theory" went through the spellcheker without a blip?
posted by magullo at 5:55 AM on June 18, 2003


Everyone identified in those records was sent a letter by DirecTV

I wonder what DirectTV would do if someone had bought one of those cards but had no dish, receiver or any plans to actually use satellite television. Probably still sue them, but how can you claim damages when nothing was done? I think it would be great if people would start buying these things and hanging them from rearview mirrors as an "artistic statement" or something. Just to keep the lawyers busy.
posted by bargle at 6:28 AM on June 18, 2003


The airwaves are free, but putting something out over the air waves requires a certain amount of infrastructure. You need technicians, customer service people, satellites, relay stations, encoding and decoding devices. All these things cost money, and while technically it doesn't "cost" anything material if you steal, but that's X amount lost a month in money that goes to customer services. If you just steal from DirecTV, it won't be able to compete with cable companies, and they'll slowly go out of business. If that happens, I'll be pissed.

Some people on this site can rationalize theft all day, as long as it's electronic.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:31 AM on June 18, 2003


A couple of years ago, I spent a little time in a very small town in rural Nebraska where everybody was going to ridiculous lengths to steal satellite TV. Some guy would distribute cards with the decryption algorithms from his garage, and there was a pretty constant stream of traffic to his place. The broadcasters kept trying all sorts of countermeasures, but they'd always be cracked immediately. By the time I left, and I swear I'm not making this up, I saw at least one household with an old 486 sitting on top of the tv running some sort of decryption program to help with the satellite theft.
posted by COBRA! at 7:41 AM on June 18, 2003


Who can I sue about all the crap that's on my airwaves?
posted by witchstone at 8:18 AM on June 18, 2003


The airwaves are free, but putting something out over the air waves requires a certain amount of infrastructure. You need technicians, customer service people, satellites, relay stations, encoding and decoding devices. All these things cost money, and while technically it doesn't "cost" anything material if you steal, but that's X amount lost a month in money that goes to customer services.

Everything written here applies to terrestrial TV broadcasting as well, but no one thinks those broadcasters are entitled to sue if you (gasp!) listen to their output.

There's no constitutional right to profit. If their business model is flawed in that it requires an abridgement of everyone else's rights, then the problem lies with their model and not everyone else's rights.
posted by NortonDC at 8:28 AM on June 18, 2003


I saw at least one household with an old 486 sitting on top of the tv running some sort of decryption program to help with the satellite theft.

Anyone else thought of crystal radio when they read this? Would it be preferrable to dump the 486 in a landfill and fork over cash for a half-assed piece of their equipment? Isn't it bizarre that someone bases their business model in a technology that does not work (i.e. crackable encryption) and then sues because ... well, it just plain doesn't work?

Some people on this site can rationalize any type of business behavior al day, just as long as there are some members of the public smart enough around computers to blame for when some brilliant business plan goes horribly wrong as a result of an encounter with reality.
posted by magullo at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2003


Everything written here applies to terrestrial TV broadcasting as well, but no one thinks those broadcasters are entitled to sue if you (gasp!) listen to their output.

There's no constitutional right to profit. If their business model is flawed in that it requires an abridgement of everyone else's rights, then the problem lies with their model and not everyone else's rights.


That's ridiculous. First of all, you can't call up NBC and have them come over if your antenna isn't working properly. Terrestrial TV is supported by advertising revenue in this country, but if you were in Canada or England, you'd have to pay a tax for it, (gasp!), even though it bounces off the side of your house anyway.

But the biggest flaw in your analogy is that while terrestrial TV is free to anyone willing to listen, DirecTV is a service, and it comes with a license agreement, user-specific hardware, and a guarantee of quality. Broadcast TV gives no such guarantee of quality.

It's your right to use the airwaves however you wish, fine. Go broadcast pirate radio or something. But there is no inalienable right to get free DirecTV, just because it's coming from space, though the air. By your logic it would be perfectly fine to use a blue box to make long distance telephone calls, or steal cable that comes over the coax lines. I mean, why not, your tax money went into paying for the cable to be laid, you're free to do whatever you want, right?
posted by SweetJesus at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2003


Some people on this site can rationalize any type of business behavior al day, just as long as there are some members of the public smart enough around computers to blame for when some brilliant business plan goes horribly wrong as a result of an encounter with reality.

If everyone stole DirecTV, the company would go out of business. If everyone cloned cell phones, than most of the cell phone companies would go out of business. If everyone split their cable signal to get free high speed internet, than the cable companies would go out of business. If everyone used blue or black boxes to scam phone calls, the telephone industry would die.

Just because you have the technical ability to do something, doesn't mean it's your right to, or you should. If I wanted to, I could re-route parts of the telephone equipment in my apartment to charge all the calls to my first floor neighbor, but I shouldn't. encryption isn't all that hard to break, especially satellite and cable signals.

These business plans aren't flawed. You don't want to get sued? Then don't steal cable. It's simple enough for a 4th grader to grasp. The business model also isn't based on encryption (I have a hunch it's about selling television shows).
posted by SweetJesus at 10:56 AM on June 18, 2003


I'm not sure that the argument that "the airwaves belong to the public" really applies to DirecTV anyway. That logic was developed in the early 20th century when all broadcasting and receiving was omnidirectional. Within a given (vast) geographical area, there could be only one station at, say, 700KHz - so the right to broadcast at a given frequency really was a piece of the public trust.

Satellite broadcasting works entirely differently. Your dish points at a specific bird in geosynchronous orbit and receives frequencies from transponders mounted on that particular bird. A given frequency in the C or Ku band might have dozens of different birds sharing it at different points in the sky, with no conflict at all, and an "omnidirectional" receiving antenna wouldn't get any of them. It's much more like point-to-point. There is no overriding "public trust" interest in the use of satellite frequency bandwidth.

The video signals themselves are MPEG'd, encrypted, and multiplexed to allow each transponder to carry several channels. DirecTV freeloaders are not just listening to the airwaves, they're decrypting them, which gets us over into DMCA territory.

If I were conducting an encrypted SSL session over satellite Internet and doing my banking, I would not be amused if I found that my neighbor was spying on my balance under the excuse that "the airwaves belong to everyone" :) and I don't expect DirecTV to be amused either.
posted by anser at 11:03 AM on June 18, 2003


Plenty of sports stadiums make their money by charging people for access to their facilities so that they can watch a baseball game.

If I can get line of site to the game in the stadium by climbing up on my roof and looking in with a pair of binoculars, then there should be no problem with me doing it.

I have no doubt that you could convince some lawmaker somewhere that it's in the financial interests of the community to restrict my ability to do that and pass some law that says I can't climb up onto my roof. However, that law would be absurd.

I may still come afoul of it. I may be punished, but the fact that the law was passed is absurd. I have no problem with people who choose to ignore absurd laws.

The proper thing for the stadium to do is not to seek to buy protective and absurd laws. The proper thing for the stadium to do is to offer me more incentive for paying to come into their stadium than I get by looking in from a distance. Or failing that, I suppose they could seek to erect walls in an attempt to block my line of site. That leads to a crazy game of cat and mouse, so the former is really preferable, but either is far superior to bending the laws to the point of absurdity.
posted by willnot at 11:13 AM on June 18, 2003


First of all, you can't call up NBC and have them come over if your antenna isn't working properly.

Newsflash: the pirates aren't calling DirecTV for help with their pirate gear.

Terrestrial TV is supported by advertising revenue in this country, but if you were in Canada or England, you'd have to pay a tax for it, (gasp!), even though it bounces off the side of your house anyway.

DirecTV is suing people in their US viewing area. The FCC mention might also have clued you in that this conversation is about the US, US courts, US laws, and US principles of justice. Everything about this conversation is US centric. Try to keep up.

But the biggest flaw in your analogy is that while terrestrial TV is free to anyone willing to listen, DirecTV is a service, and it comes with a license agreement, user-specific hardware, and a guarantee of quality.

Not for pirates. They avail themselves of none of this. They're not asking for it, they're not paying for it, and they're not getting it. They also provide their own gear. I guess that's what makes everybody happy with it.

Broadcast TV gives no such guarantee of quality.

Nor does pirated satellite TV. That analogy of mine is looking pretty fucking solid.

By your logic it would be perfectly fine to use a blue box to make long distance telephone calls, or steal cable that comes over the coax lines. I mean, why not, your tax money went into paying for the cable to be laid, you're free to do whatever you want, right?

No, your statement is completely false. Regardless of subsidies, the telephone network is private property and the CATV network is private property.

The airwaves belong to the people.
posted by NortonDC at 11:33 AM on June 18, 2003


The airwaves belong to the people.

Do you have a problem with people listening in to your cell phone or cordless phone conversations? Or decrypting your SSL sessions that happen to go over a wireless network?

I do.
posted by jaek at 11:49 AM on June 18, 2003


Encrypt everything OTA to keep the casually motivated from understanding it, and realize that's the most protection you can expect. Don't base your business plan on eternally keeping people from finding out what you're continually broadcasting.
posted by NortonDC at 12:02 PM on June 18, 2003


Newsflash: the pirates aren't calling DirecTV for help with their pirate gear.

Newsflash: It doesn't matter. They're not passively listening via an antenna to an unencrypted signal. They're actively breaking an encrypted signal.

DirecTV is suing people in their US viewing area. The FCC mention might also have clued you in that this conversation is about the US, US courts, US laws, and US principles of justice. Everything about this conversation is US centric. Try to keep up.

Well, if you're so big on US laws, US courts, and US principles of justice, than it's funny that you skirt the fact that under US laws, in US courts, it's illegal to pirate a satellite signal. Funny I didn't see anything about that in the previous paragraph.

Not for pirates. They avail themselves of none of this. They're not asking for it, they're not paying for it, and they're not getting it. They also provide their own gear. I guess that's what makes everybody happy with it.

Except for the fact that they're stealing a pay service, and not everybody is happy with it. If DirecTV was happy with the arrangement, it wouldn't be suing. The only people who are happy are the people who weaseled their way out of dropping 35 bucks a month for better quality TV.

Your whole argument is a rationalization for stealing cable, based on some bullshitty patriotic idea of your manifest destiny right to do whatever you want with the spectrum. The FCC isn't around to protect the airwaves for you from big bad corporations. It's there to regulate the use of the airwaves for all, businesses and people, and it's there to make sure that the airwaves remain a viable commercial interest.

Billions and billions of dollars were spent by private companies in this country to build wireless networks, and satellite radio and television access. To say that you can just steal anything that passes though an antenna, just because, is idiotic. Because, as you said, if it came though a telephone line or a coax cable, than it would be theft.

Nor does pirated satellite TV. That analogy of mine is looking pretty fucking solid.

As solid as swiss cheese left in the sun. If a for-pay satellite services begins making service upgrades that effect the speed, or quality, or whatever of the service, and you're getting the upgrade for free because you're stealing tv, than you're costing the satellite company money in what would have been subscription fees, which would have gone to make network upgrades. So, you're getting better service, but you're not paying for it.

On the other hand, broadcast TV is advertiser and network supported. The cost of upgrades and network infrastructure is already built into the cost of running the network.

No, your statement is completely false. Regardless of subsidies, the telephone network is private property and the CATV network is private property.

That's really stupid. Really, really stupid. It's ok to pirate satellite streams, but it's not ok to pirate regular, land-line cable streams. Do you just pick and choose these things out of thin air? What about the satellites that broadcast the television signals? Those are private property.

In any event, I'm not going to convince you. If you feel like pirating a satellite signal, than go ahead. Rationalize it anyway you want - the airwaves are the people's right; I wasn't going to buy it, so it's not costing them anything anyway; whatever you want. I just hope DirecTV sues you so I no longer have to pay extra every month to subsidize your ass because you're too cheap to just buy it.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:24 PM on June 18, 2003


Don't base your business plan on eternally keeping people from finding out what you're continually broadcasting.

It is my impression (not being a shareholder, I don't know for sure) that DirecTV's business plan is not based on keeping people from finding out what they're broadcasting (after all, they publish an online programming guide), but rather on discouraging the formation of organized cottage industries to decrypt their signal en masse.

If you managed, in the privacy of your own home, to figure out how to decrypt DirecTV, and you built the hardware and software necessary for this, and pointed a dish at their birds, while doing nothing to identify yourself publicly, it is safe to assume that you would never hear a peep from DirecTV.

If, on the other hand, you buy a hacked access card (using Visa, natch) from Shmucko Joe's Satellite Choppe Shoppe, and use it to get that tag-sale Philips receiver back in service, well, you and Joe had probably both better watch out.

Those are the two extremes, there are more complicated cases in between, obviously.
posted by anser at 12:37 PM on June 18, 2003


They're not passively listening via an antenna to an unencrypted signal. They're actively breaking an encrypted signal.

So what? Decryption is just another technological step in the interpretation of the signal. It's not magic, it's more circuits.

Well, if you're so big on US laws, US courts, and US principles of justice, than it's funny that you skirt the fact that under US laws, in US courts, it's illegal to pirate a satellite signal. Funny I didn't see anything about that in the previous paragraph.

You might not see, but it is there: "US principles of justice."

Except for the fact that they're stealing a pay service, and not everybody is happy with it. If DirecTV was happy with the arrangement, it wouldn't be suing. The only people who are happy are the people who weaseled their way out of dropping 35 bucks a month for better quality TV.

1) Humor. Look into it.

2) No, they're not stealing any service because it's already being delivered unbidden.

Your whole argument is a rationalization for stealing cable

No, that's a lie. My argument explicitly has nothing to do with cable.

it's there to make sure that the airwaves remain a viable commercial interest.

False. It's there to keep protect the public's interest in the airwaves, whether or not that intersects with keeping them commercially viable. The FCC isn't forcing public radio or TV off the air to make commerce more viable.

Billions and billions of dollars were spent by private companies in this country to build wireless networks, and satellite radio and television access.

Just like terrestrial broadcast.

To say that you can just steal anything that passes though an antenna, just because, is idiotic.

You can't steal it if it's already there.

Because, as you said, if it came though a telephone line or a coax cable, than it would be theft.

No, I didn't say that. Don't put words in my mouth.

If a for-pay satellite services begins making service upgrades that effect the speed, or quality, or whatever of the service, and you're getting the upgrade for free because you're stealing tv, than you're costing the satellite company money in what would have been subscription fees, which would have gone to make network upgrades. So, you're getting better service, but you're not paying for it.

Just like terrestrial broadcast. B&W->color->stereo->HD.

On the other hand, broadcast TV is advertiser and network supported. The cost of upgrades and network infrastructure is already built into the cost of running the network.

Business models again.

Do you just pick and choose these things out of thin air?

No, it flows from public ownership of the airwaves, which CATV does not depend upon. Try to keep up.

What about the satellites that broadcast the television signals? Those are private property.

Then I guess I'd better not steal any satellites out of the sky. Shit, my weekend just opened up.

I just hope DirecTV sues you so I no longer have to pay extra every month to subsidize your ass because you're too cheap to just buy it.

I've never participated in satellite tv in any way, so in fact, given the fixed cost of the broadcasting medium, you're still paying extra because I don't pay. Business models again.
posted by NortonDC at 12:59 PM on June 18, 2003


So what? Decryption is just another technological step in the interpretation of the signal. It's not magic, it's more circuits.

Too bad that under the DMCA, that's illegal. What was your point again?

You might not see, but it is there: "US principles of justice."

So stealing better TV is a principle of US justice?

1) Humor. Look into it

Next time, be more funny.

2) No, they're not stealing any service because it's already being delivered unbidden.

Then why can't I steal cable TV? The cables are there, and the service is being delivered unbidden too. How about cell phone service? Why can't I just steal anything I want? Oh, those law things, right...

No, that's a lie. My argument explicitly has nothing to do with cable.

Ok then, than your argument is that anything that is broadcast is yours. You can do what you want with it, implicitly. Which, of course, isn't true.

False. It's there to keep protect the public's interest in the airwaves, whether or not that intersects with keeping them commercially viable. The FCC isn't forcing public radio or TV off the air to make commerce more viable.

The FCC is a regulatory commission. It's designed to regulate and monitor the use of the airwaves, as well as protect the public's interests. But you're either naive or skirting the issue if you don't think the FCC has enacted rules to protect commercial businesses.

It also costs money to buy a broadcast license in order to legally send a signal over x amount of miles/watts. The FCC leases parts of the spectrum for commercial use (900mhz for cordless phones, 2.4 ghz for most cell phones, 2.3XXXXXX for PCS phones).

And public television and radio have to pay the same amount of money as the commercial interests. The only difference is one is advertiser and subscription supported, and the other is listener supported (ie donations).

Just like terrestrial broadcast.

Which was built half a century ago, and has no bearing on the current situation the world or the technology is in. At one time there was no private property, but we're not living in that age now.

You can't steal it if it's already there.

Yes you can. You're not paying for the rights to access the signal, thus, you're stealing it. Even if something is intangible, that doesn't mean you can't steal it.

No, I didn't say that. Don't put words in my mouth.

Remember this ->

Me: By your logic it would be perfectly fine to use a blue box to make long distance telephone calls, or steal cable that comes over the coax lines. I mean, why not, your tax money went into paying for the cable to be laid, you're free to do whatever you want, right?

You: No, your statement is completely false. Regardless of subsidies, the telephone network is private property and the CATV network is private property.

So signal theft though the air, ok!, but signal theft though a landline, illegal?

Just like terrestrial broadcast. B&W->color->stereo->HD.

Except, of course, that what you display the picture on, and what receives the picture signal, are two completely different things.

Business models again.

Yeah, it's such a horrible business model... So horrible in fact, the company has been profitable for years, and millions of people use their service. How dare it try and sue people who are illegally circumventing encrypted signals, pirating DirecTV hardware, and creating false DirecTV access cards (which are technically the property of DirecTV).

No, it flows from public ownership of the airwaves, which CATV does not depend upon. Try to keep up.

You may have rights to access the airwaves, and collectively the american public may "own" (and I use that word very tentatively) the overall airwaves, but you don't "own" everything broadcast over the airwaves. There are all sorts of copyright issues. The signal isn't free, and it wasn't designed to be free. This is your logical loophole.

Then I guess I'd better not steal any satellites out of the sky. Shit, my weekend just opened up.

I have a feeling you'd steal anything that wasn't bolted down. If you were ever in my house, I'd count the silverware.

I've never participated in satellite tv in any way, so in fact, given the fixed cost of the broadcasting medium, you're still paying extra because I don't pay. Business models again.

How exactly am I paying for you not to use a satellite service?
posted by SweetJesus at 1:49 PM on June 18, 2003


Too bad that under the DMCA, that's illegal. What was your point again?

1) The DMCA has little to do with justice.

2) The cat and mouse of the DBS industry predates the DMCA, so any reliance on the DMCA to make the DBS industry viable is very strong evidence that their business model is fundamentally broken and they're relying on infringements of everyone elses rights to shore it up.

So stealing better TV is a principle of US justice?

It's not stealing. Interpretting what comes to you unbidden is far from stealing.

Next time, be more funny.

It won't help you keep up.

Then why can't I steal cable TV? The cables are there, and the service is being delivered unbidden too.

We've covered the critical distinction: the airwaves belong to the people, while the cable system is the property of the cable company.

How about cell phone service?

Three distinctions, all important, one critical.

1) It's active, meaning you transmit.

2) The cell tower you're transmitting to and using is private property.

3) Your doing so consumes resources, including computation, land-line bandwidth and electricity, that are owned by an external private entity.

Ok then, than your argument is that anything that is broadcast is yours. You can do what you want with it, implicitly.

Let me make it explicit: I have the right to listen to, record and attempt to interpret anything that is transmitted over the airwaves that I share in ownership of. And the transmitters have the right to make it as hard as they can to do so. Built in balance. The DBS industry is seeing things go away from being in their favor; too bad.

But you're either naive or skirting the issue if you don't think the FCC has enacted rules to protect commercial businesses.

Well, lucky for you that I don't suffer from that particular form of naïveté. It's existence doesn't make it right, and it doesn't make it just.

>Just like terrestrial broadcast.

Which was built half a century ago, and has no bearing on the current situation the world or the technology is in.


False.

You're not paying for the rights to access the signal, thus, you're stealing it.

No, you're not. The closest thing to stealing it would be claiming authorship, i.e. plagarism, or resale. Thess are not under discussion here.

So signal theft though the air, ok!, but signal theft though a landline, illegal?

Only one consumes privately owned resources. The distinction is real.

Except, of course, that what you display the picture on, and what receives the picture signal, are two completely different things.

Whatever you wanted to communicate to me with this, you've failed.

I have a feeling you'd steal anything that wasn't bolted down.

Huh, wrong again. Shocker.

How exactly am I paying for you not to use a satellite service?

In exactly the same way you would if I was pirating the signal.

You realize, of course, that since I don't particpate and don't have any financial interest, combined with the fact that you do participate and do have a financial interest, since having more paying subscribers would increase margins and allow the broadcaster to charge less per person, you are the only one here arguing with a self-serving financial motivation.
posted by NortonDC at 2:44 PM on June 18, 2003


My god, these posts are getting long.

Anyways, imagine, if you will, that I am a fully trained electrical engineer who has somehow become out of touch with society and lives on a hill where no one visits. I *find* these waves, I build a device to decode them. I have no idea where they are coming from. Am I in the wrong?

Someone said something earlier about decrypting SSL sessions sent over a wireless link (good luck with that, by the way), and this is the model DirectTV shouuld be using. If they're broadcasting their product out to a publicly accessible medium, they should take measures which insure that it can't be efficiently decrypted. An easy method would be to install GPSs in the boxes that are part of a private decryption key (within a certain distance, say, 50m). You tell them when you move and they update your key. It's not hard to make *good* secure content delivery schemes, DirectTV just has at least one (powerful enough) incompetent engineer
posted by j.edwards at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2003


DirecTV is an awful company.
posted by shoos at 8:39 PM on June 18, 2003


I'd just like to say that SweetJesus and NortonDC's comments on this topic are some of the best I've read, and really show the polarization of opinion this topic effects quite well.

For the record, I thought NortonDC's "Shit, my weekend just opened up" comment was pretty funny.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:51 PM on June 18, 2003


Anyways, imagine, if you will, that I am a fully trained electrical engineer who has somehow become out of touch with society and lives on a hill where no one visits. I *find* these waves, I build a device to decode them. I have no idea where they are coming from. Am I in the wrong?

As I said in an earlier message you may have missed, in that hypothetical circumstance you're unlikely ever to be caught or sued by DirecTV. Whether you are nevertheless "in the wrong" is a philosophical question you'd have to decide for yourself. In practice & in the real world, this isn't how DirecTV theft generally works; people buy or make hardware and software that specifically and knowingly circumvents DTV's security and billing.

Someone said something earlier about decrypting SSL sessions sent over a wireless link (good luck with that, by the way), and this is the model DirectTV should be using. If they're broadcasting their product out to a publicly accessible medium, they should take measures which insure that it can't be efficiently decrypted. An easy method would be to install GPSs in the boxes that are part of a private decryption key (within a certain distance, say, 50m). You tell them when you move and they update your key. It's not hard to make *good* secure content delivery schemes, DirectTV just has at least one (powerful enough) incompetent engineer.

Per-box decryption keys are impractical because DTV sends a given channel out only once on one transponder, hence it encrypts the stream only once. Unlike point-to-point schemes (e.g. SSL), DTV has to have one key for everybody for a given program.

What they can do (and I believe are doing) is to rotate this single per-channel key out fairly rapidly and download new ones to the smart Access Card via the phone line interface. Thus any one pirated key expires rapidly. This can still be reverse engineered but you need a "pirate network" to distribute illicit updates, and networks are easier to catch.

By the way, you might be able to put GPS hardware up in the LNB housing, since the dish has a clear view of the sky; you could not easily put it in the sat receiver, since those are typically inside and sky blocked.
posted by anser at 11:33 PM on June 18, 2003


I've considered building a "leech" antenna that would pick up an signal leakage from the cable tv lines that run through my condo attic en route to the neighbour... as long as I don't physically tap into or otherwise alter the cable company's physical property, I figure I should be able to use the leaked signal as I wish.

However, TV is such an abysmally low priority for me that I'd probably toss the tube before I ever got around to seeking more crap to display on it.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2003


I wonder what DirectTV would do if someone had bought one of those cards but had no dish, receiver or any plans to actually use satellite television. Probably still sue them, but how can you claim damages when nothing was done?

For my buddy, who was caught, is being told to pay $4500 per device, and to sign up for the premium package for one year. The reason he is not fighting it in court is the legal bill is more. That is how they are winning this, they have no proof the devices were used, just names.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2003


five fresh five, by law your attic is not their easement which it is being used for by the cable company. They must have your permission, they probably had the previous owners or management gave permission. For condos because there are no easements the cable company is taking a risk by placing boxes on your property, since a condo is a corporation of owners anywhere they put them, they are on your property.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:06 AM on June 19, 2003


I have a cable line running through my front yard. I know this because I started tilling up a flowerbed, and found it. Or, more accurately, bits of it at that point.

It's County owned, so it belongs to the taxpayers, and therefore me. They came out and retrenched it around the flowerbeds, but left a scar through my yard.

Now....the CTV company is sending a signal into my property, via the public owned broadcast medium, and this is not significantly different from the DTV scenario. If I splice the line, I am actively stealing CTV signals. I could do this with a short drop in transmission strength while I rebuild the line, then run the wire under my flowerbed into my house. I could then build a cable box, or just watch the signals that can be decoded by my TV tuner.

Is this wrong, NortonDC and FiveFreshFish?
posted by dwivian at 12:29 PM on June 20, 2003


Ah, but if you splice the line, you're extracting electrons that were purchased and sent by the cableco. Property theft, that.

Hmmmm. I think I just discovered the flaw in my steal-the-radiowaves plot: because there's nothing connected to the cable, there wouldn't be any signals coming down it (nowhere for them to go).

I'm so glad I didn't waste my time on that, then. Besides, I'd rather hang at MeFi than watch the boobtube.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 AM on June 21, 2003


Actually, cable TV doesn't deliver current, it delivers an electromagnetic signal. The outer conductor of a CATV cable is a shield, not a return line. So you're not stealing electrons if you splice into a CATV cable.
posted by kindall at 11:43 AM on June 21, 2003


Every tap weakens the signal. Resources are consumed.
posted by NortonDC at 10:03 AM on June 23, 2003


There is that. But the cable company is strongly incented to provide more than enough signal strength, since they don't know when someone would legitimately sign up for cable.
posted by kindall at 1:54 PM on June 23, 2003


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