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Judge awards Dish Network $51m from satellite pirate

'Substantial and unquantifiable harm'

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A federal judge has slapped a $51m judgment on a Florida man for distributing software that allowed people to receive television programming from Dish Network without paying for it.

The ruling, issued Monday by US District Judge James S. Moody Jr. of Tampa, found that Robert Ward violated both the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Communications Act. Using the online monikers "Thedssguy" and "Veracity," Ward provided 255,741 piracy software files, making him liable for damages of $51.148m, or $200 per download.

Under the DMCA, Ward could have been forced to pay $2,500 for each download, an amount that would have brought damages to more than $639m. Ward was also ordered to pay Dish Network's attorney fees and to permanently stop making or distributing software that circumvents the satellite provider's security.

"Plaintiffs have established that Ward's distribution of piracy software caused substantial and unquantifiable harm in that he enabled an untold number of end-users to circumvent the Dish Network security system and intercept copyrighted Dish Network programming," Moody wrote. "A permanent injunction is also necessary to prevent Ward from engaging in future wrongful conduct because plaintiffs do not have an adequate remedy to prevent damage they would suffer by further infringement by Ward."

The software at issue allowed users to bypass access security technology provided by Dish co-venture NagraStar, so they could receive premium programming and regular channels on so-called free-to-air receivers. The receivers are designed to play only unencrypted satellite transmissions, such as ethnic, religious, and advertising content. After flashing the devices with the software, users could watch paid programming on the receivers.

Dish Network characterized the ruling was a major victory that will strengthen its ability to enforce its copyrights. In addition to ruling that damages could be calculated on the number of individuals who downloaded the software, the judge also found that the software violated the Communications Act, the first time a federal judge has done so.

"This is a significant victory in our effort to eradicate piracy of the Dish Network System," the company said in a statement.

According to Moody's order, Ward made multiple online posts in which he shared his name, date of birth, telephone number, street address, and email address.

An attorney for Ward didn't respond to requests for comment. ®

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