Sattelite TV Pirate Whacked

A company that manufactured devices to break through encrypted satellite TV signals recently got 214 million reasons why crime doesn’t pay. A federal court in California ordered Viewtech Inc to pay $214 million to EchoStar Satellite under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA prohibits the manufacture of devices designed to circumvent access controls to copyrighted works. The Act provides statutory damages of $200 to $2500 for each violation. One challenge in cases like this is establishing that the device is designed to violate the copyright act. When the BetaMax (readers under the age of 25 go ask your parents what a BetaMax is, ask about 8 track tapes while you’re at it) first came out, Universal Studios sued Sony on the ground that the device could be used to infringe copyrights. Universal lost, because, while the BetaMax (and later the VCR) could be used to infringe, it was also capable of non-infringing uses. So a key question a defendant like Viewtech needs to answer is whether its device can be used for any purpose other than copyright infringement. In Viewtech’s case, the answer was, “not so much.” In some respects, Viewtech got off easy. The court arrived at the award by applying $200 to each of the 1.07 million devices Viewtech sold. Given that the DMCA allows for statutory damages of 10 times that amount, it could have been much worse.