Court dismisses DirecTV whistleblower case

Legal setback for former anti-piracy 'bag man'

A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought against satellite TV giant DirecTV by a former worker.

The case revolves around DirecTV's controversial anti-piracy tactics. DirecTV is targeting consumers who used smart card programmers and other equipment to get free or expanded satellite TV service. Passive reception of DirecTV's satellite TV signals is difficult (if not impossible) to monitor. So DirecTV attempts to find 'cable pirates' by raiding suppliers of equipment that can be used in piracy and sending out threatening letters to everyone on their customer lists.

The letters accuse the recipients of violating anti-piracy laws in purchasing equipment like customizable smart card programmers, and demand cash payment of $3,500 or upwards under threat of far more costly legal action. DirecTV has sent out tens of thousands of these legal nasty grams since last year and filed lawsuits against over 9,000 people who've failed to respond. None of these cases have yet gone to trial.

Concerns about the crackdown have prompted consumer advocates to launch a website apprising crackdown targets of their legal rights. EFF says innocent people are settling with DirecTV for no other purpose than to avoid costly litigation, Security Focus reports.

John Fisher, a former police officer, resigned from DirecTV in October 2003 after working as a senior investigator with the company for just over a year. He claims he was effectively forced out because of his former employer's unethical tactics. Instead of acting up as a legitimate investigator tracking signal pirates he ended up "as little better than a 'bag man for the mob'", according to Fisher's March lawsuit. DirecTV knew that between five and 10 per cent of its targets were innocent, according to Fisher's suit. Through the case, Fisher sought unspecified damages and an end to DirecTV's tactics.

But a California Superior Court judge decided that Fisher's case interfered with DirecTV's right to petition government. The court therefore granted the DirecTV's application to dismiss the lawsuit citing California's "anti-SLAPP" statute. The decision is a legal set back against Fisher, who nonetheless continues to pursue a claim of unfair dismissal against DirecTV.

Fisher and his attorney Jeffrey Wilens have agreed to settle the wrongful dismissal claim through arbitration but are reserving the right to reintigate legal action if this fails, reports Satellite industry news site SkyReport. ®

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