Feeds

Boffins defended in TV pirates battle

'Double-dipping'

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Legitimate researchers need protection from the heavy-handed tactics of US satellite TV provider DirecTV, according to two digital civil rights groups which filed a friend-of-the-court brief with a US Appeals Court on Wednesday.

DirecTV uses smartcards and special readers to allow its subscribers to receive the company's satellite programmes. A pirate industry has grown up around this, involving the use of modified smartcards and readers, which allow users to illegally intercept the programmes.

Federal law makes it illegal to intercept satellite TV signals without authorisation and also bans modifying or assembling interception tools for sale or distribution.

In recent years, DirecTV has used this law to sue the sellers, programmers and manufacturers of the cards, readers and programming devices, and also those running websites that promote these items. A few years ago, following the lead of the music industry, DirecTV began taking direct action against the users themselves.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Internet and Society Cyberlaw Clinic at Stanford University Law School are particularly concerned about a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in which DirecTV is trying to sue individuals for the interception of its signal as well as modification of receiving equipment.

According to the EFF, DirecTV is claiming that a modification takes place where altered smart cards are simply inserted into standard television equipment. This, says DirecTV, constitutes “assembling” a pirate device. The EFF calls it “double-dipping” – punishing individuals twice for the same offence.

According to the Cyberlaw Clinic, if DirecTV’s position is adopted, individuals could face up to $100,000 in damages for unauthorised smart card use. The Clinic also worries that legitimate smart card researchers may be deterred from doing their work out of fear of such large liability.

The amicus brief therefore claims that DirecTV is overreaching and that legitimate security researchers would be threatened under DirecTV's reading of the law.

It argues that DirecTV is misinterpreting the law and that Congress did not intend the insertion of a modified smartcard to count as “assembling” a pirate access device. Rather, says the brief, Congress wrote the assembly/manufacturing provision to cover commercial actors – such as websites or companies – who actually assemble or manufacture the pirate access devices and then sell or distribute them to others.

The brief points out that courts around the country have ruled against DirecTV on this issue and urges the Ninth Circuit to determine that DirecTV can not recover additional damages under this provision.

DirecTV is appealing against a lower court’s dismissal of its claim for damages for modification of the equipment. The lower court awarded damages in respect of the alleged interception.

"Researchers are constantly assembling, modifying, and building smart card components in furtherance of scientific knowledge and innovation," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Congress clearly meant to exclude these beneficial activities from any legal liability. The court below understood this, and we hope the Appeals Court agrees."

See: Friend-of-the-court brief (36-page / 528KB PDF)

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.