Appeals Court Says Hacking Your DirecTV Not The Same As Commercial Piracy

While piracy funds kills babies, we support the idea of people being free to modify devices they have purchased with they money they earned through blood, sweat and toil, so we were glad to hear that an appeals court said that hacking your DirecTV card shouldn’t be penalized under a more punitive clause of the Federal Communications Act.

Reading section 605 as a whole makes clear that Congress intended to treat differently individuals who played different roles in the pirating system… In contrast to subsection (a)? targeting of individuals who use piracy devices to intercept satellite signals, subsection (e)(4) aims at bigger fish–the assemblers, manufacturers, and distributors of piracy devices.

Ah, we yearn for the quaint days when stealing cable just meant slipping the cable guy a Jackson.

Appeals Court: Hacking your DirecTV not the same as commercial piracy [Ars Technica]


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  1. weg1978 says:

    “…we support the idea of people being free to modify devices they have purchased with they money they earned through blood, sweat and toil, so we were glad to hear that an appeals court said that hacking your DirecTV card shouldn’t be penalized under a more punitive clause of the Federal Communications Act.”

    Soooo, stealing is okay. Don’t whine when your rates go up.

  2. dbeahn says:

    @weg1978: “Soooo, stealing is okay. Don’t whine when your rates go up.”

    No, more like “Despite what the companies would like you to think, FAIR USE is legal, and it’s illegal for them to extort you into thinking otherwise…”

  3. forever_knight says:

    @weg1978: says the industry shill

  4. ArabRabbi says:

    Um, two words:

    Console Modchips?

    It may be a better question for the Kotaku portion of the Gawker Blog Empire, but I can’t help but imagine that the question of individual vs. seller liability is just as pertinent to modchip use as it is satellite TV.

    And also, doesn’t a 9th Circuit ruling only apply to the 9th circuit? Or does this simply set precedent for lawyers and judges in other jurisdictions to follow? (instead of outright legitimizing it nation-wide)

  5. IndyJaws says:

    This is great news. Several years ago, I purchased a smart card reader/writer for a security project I was doing at work. The company I bought it from was busted by DirecTV for selling the equipment necessary to pirate signals. Evidently my reader/writer was one of those components. They got the customer list and sent a threatening letter that I would be charged with satelite theft unless I paid them $3500 (I can see where the RIAA got their bright idea). They followed up the letter with an even more threatening phone call, stating that the -only- purpose for the smart card reader/writer was for satelite piracy and that I would be found immediately guilty. When I mentioned countersuing for malicious prosecution, I never heard from them again.

    Sad thing is that I did have DirecTV at the time and quite enjoyed it. Of course, I cancelled my service immediately and now have to put up with Comcast.

  6. coopjust says:

    People, that is not what the court said.

    Basically, smart cards have practical uses outside of piracy of satellite tv, such as Indyjaws. You can easily buy smartcard equipment to setup a security system online for cheap, and many of these places were targeted by DirecTV.

    When DirecTV got the customer data from these places, they tried to extort every customer they had who bought satellite equipment, threatening to sue with the charge of theft of service. While there are some who bought the equipment to do just that, many had other, legal uses for smart cards.

    Basically, DirecTV got in trouble because they were trying to put the legal hammer on customers who purchased equipment that could be used to circumvent security on DirecTV boxes. The court found that the mere ownership of the equipment by consumers wasn’t enough (DirecTV needs proof of it), and that the law they tried to justify the lawsuits was intended to let companies stop companies manufacturing and selling said equipment.

    Even if they tried to take the companies that sell blank smartcards and readers to court, they’d probably win because of substantial noninfringing uses. Of course, if they sold pirated smart cards, software that directly enabled the piracy (included a pirated card ID), or advertised the smart cards as such, they’d be in deep crap. Of course, with DirecTVs legal army, they could win a case anyways.

    So, it’s not really “Piracy isn’t illegal, lol!11!eleventy!” but more saying that ownership of a smartcard doesn’t make you a DirecTV pirate instantly. It’s sort of like saying anyone who owns a gun can only own it so they can murder others.

  7. Buran says:

    @IndyJaws: I would have turned them over to your employer’s lawyers, personally — good to know that doing your job can get you sued. I’m sure they’d have loved to know that.

  8. cuiusquemodi says:

    @ArabRabbi: I am not a lawyer (undergrad, planning on going to law school, so I have some understanding on the subject) and this is not legal advice, but a ruling by the 9th Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals is binding precedent only upon federal courts (I’m not sure about state courts) within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Washington, as well as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands). Similar cases in other Circuits may have different rulings; the only way that it would be binding nationwide would be if SCOTUS affirmed it. For now, in the rest of the country, a court might look upon it as persuasive precedent in a similar case.

    That said, the 9th Circuit has the highest overturn rate of the thirteen Courts of Appeal (the 11 circuit courts, the DC Circuit, and the Federal Circuit). It probably doesn’t help that the 9th Circuit includes California (ducks).

  9. ArabRabbi says:

    @cuiusquemodi: That is what I thought. The whole shebang.

    I just find it funny/interesting/depressing that whenever something relatively progressive and unexpected pops up, it’s always the 9th Circuit. For those curious, here’s a map of it’s and other jurisdictions and Wikipedia entry for casual, armchair reading:


    While this goes for all circuit courts, it seems like many – if not all – progressive 9th circuit rulings in particular are repeated through media channels, both mainstream and alternative, like a new gospel without really understanding the implications or how they’re applied within the legal system.

    With all of that said, though, this ruling keeps me optimistic- if not for the fact that someone at the federal level has consumer interests in mind, then for the reason that there are rabble rousers at the federal level at all. It’s damned encouraging to read about, I’ll say that, but still- I’ll save my champaign for the same thing at the US Supreme Court.

    One can dream :)

  10. OKH says:

    Can i ask what the point of modding a satellite box/card is? Is there a legitimate reason to do so?

  11. Sonnymooks says:


    Not to be mean, but I think the 9th circuit is also the most heavily overturned circuit court, it seems like their rulings always get overturned by SCOTUS.

  12. pestie says:

    @coopjust: I’ve been out of the “scene” for a long, long time (and paid my $3500, too), so I figure it’s not going to hurt to reveal that I’ve got a little first-hand knowledge of what happened here.

    DirecTV didn’t hassle people over smartcard readers, they hassled them over “unloopers,” which really were designed specifically for hacking DirecTV. There were a very, very small number of people who bought unloopers to tinker with, or because they could potentially be modified for benign use, or because they were doing security research, but for the most part, anyone who bought an unlooper did so with the intention of pirating DirecTV.

  13. Phantom_Photon says:

    To quote a friend of mine:

    “I’m not stealing it, they’re broadcasting it without permission onto my property.”

    With satellite, they broadcast that signal onto the property of every single household in North America. Just because I purchase hardware, and then modify it to decode a signal they are broadcasting at me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that does not make me a pirate.

  14. Phantom_Photon says:

    One last word:

    1) Buying a product makes that product mine. (legal)

    2) I can tinker with, modify, or destroy any of my own property as I see fit. (legal)

    3) If someone transmits information into my household through print, audio, or image; I am free to decode that information by reading, listening, or viewing it. (legal)

    If the satellite companies are upset that people ar modifying their purchased hardware to decode signals that are being broadcast into their homes, they should look for a technological and not a legal solution.

    There is a LARGE legal and ethical difference between modifying your own property to decode information being broadcast onto your property; and connecting a cable to an outside source that is not on your property with the express intent of modifying hardware you do not own (the cable junction box) in order to receive information that is not being broadcast to you.

  15. weg1978 says:


    Then what does it make you, an ‘opportunist’? Why not just mod a slingbox and charge people $10 per month to take advantage of the ‘free’ signal that hits your property? Very entrepreneurial. What if everyone freeloaded in the manner you espouse? No more Directv.

  16. swalve says:

    @dbeahn: It is NOT fair use. It is only legal to receive the signals, it is NOT legal to descramble them without authorization.

  17. swalve says:

    @Phantom_Photon: Yes it does.