Satellite TV Giant Will No Longer Prosecute Users for Mere Possession
San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA – After discussions with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) Cyberlaw Clinic, satellite television giant DirecTV has agreed to modify its nationwide campaign against signal piracy in order to reduce threats and lawsuits against innocent users of smart card technology. Chief among these changes is a promise to no longer sue or threaten to sue people merely for possessing smart card devices.
“American innovators and hobbyists shouldn’t have to fear legal action merely for possessing new technologies that have many legitimate uses,” said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. “We’re also pleased that DirecTV has agreed to stop targeting general purpose devices in its campaign and will investigate all substantive claims of innocence.”
Over the past few years, DirecTV has orchestrated a nationwide legal campaign against hundreds of thousands of individuals, claiming that they were illegally intercepting its satellite TV signal. The company began its crusade by raiding smart card device distributors to obtain their customer lists, then sent over 170,000 demand letters to customers and eventually filed more than 24,000 federal lawsuits against them. Because DirecTV made little effort to distinguish legal uses of smart card technology from illegal ones, EFF and the CIS Cyberlaw Clinic received hundreds of calls and emails from panicked device purchasers.
In August 2003, EFF and CIS created the DirecTV Defense website to provide innocent users and their lawyers with the information necessary to defend themselves. The organizations also began a series of discussions with DirecTV about ways to reform its anti-piracy tactics and protect innocent consumers.
As a result, DirecTV has agreed to make several changes to its campaign. The company will no longer pursue people solely for purchasing smart card readers, writers, general-purpose programmers, and general-purpose emulators. It will maintain this policy into the forseeable future and file lawsuits only against people it suspects of actually pirating its satellite signal. DirecTV will, however, continue to investigate purchasers of devices that are often primarily designed for satellite signal interception, nicknamed “bootloaders” and “unloopers.”
DirecTV also agreed to change its pre-lawsuit demand letters to explain in detail how innocent recipients can get DirecTV to drop their cases. The company also promised that it will investigate every substantive claim of innocence it receives. If purchasers provide sufficient evidence demonstrating that they did not use their devices for signal theft, DirecTV will dismiss their cases. EFF and CIS will monitor reports of this process to confirm that innocent device purchasers are having their cases dismissed.
“While EFF still disagrees with DirecTV over other aspects of its campaign, we’re pleased that we could find mutual ground on these issues,” said CIS Executive Director Jennifer Granick, who represented EFF in the negotiations. "We hope to continue working with DirecTV to resolve the remaining disputes so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of smart card technology."
Smart card readers and their various derivatives have many legitimate uses, including computer security and scientific research.
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