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Innocent Customers Potentially Dragged Into Legal Battle Over Satellite TV

August 18, 2008

Innocent Customers Potentially Dragged Into Legal Battle Over Satellite TV

EFF Urges Court to Protect Customers' Privacy

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a federal court Friday to reject efforts by Echostar to get the names and addresses of every customer that purchased a free-to-air satellite receiver. Echostar claims that the receiver can be modified to pirate DISH satellite TV programming. EFF argues that Echostar's demand, which seeks all purchasers regardless of whether they actually pirated DISH TV, would violate user privacy and leave innocent purchasers vulnerable to bogus legal threats.

The demand for customer records came up in a lawsuit between Echostar, the company behind the DISH satellite TV service, and Freetech, Inc., the manufacturer of Coolsat free-to-air satellite receivers. As part of the suit, Echostar subpoenaed 17 distributors of Coolsat receivers, demanding the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other information of every person who purchased a Coolsat receiver over the last five years.

"Innocent customers should not be dragged into federal litigation just because they bought a product that other, less scrupulous purchasers may be hacking for unlawful purposes," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "The court should recognize the privacy interests of these customers, especially since Echostar does not need these customer lists in order to have its day in court against Freetech."

In recent years, satellite TV companies, record labels, and movie studios have all engaged in dragnet litigation tactics that threaten individuals with costly lawsuits unless they pay significant financial sums to "settle" the dispute. These mass litigation campaigns leave innocent consumers trapped between paying a "settlement" for something they did not do or facing even higher legal costs to prove their innocence. Satellite TV provider DirecTV pioneered this approach in 2001, threatening more than 120,000 individuals with legal action and commencing more than 24,000 federal lawsuits, often with no evidence other than the fact that the individual purchased multi-purpose devices that could be used for piracy.

"Once the names of Freetech customers are disclosed to Echostar, there may be little that any court can do to protect these people from harassment, settlement demands, and legal expenses," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "This may be the last chance the court has to protect the privacy of these individuals."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/echostar_v_freet/EFFamicusEchostarvFreetech.pdf

For more on Echostar v. Freetech:
http://www.eff.org/cases/echostar-v-freetech

Contacts:

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org

Matt Zimmerman
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
mattz@eff.org

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