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DirecTV Sues Anyone Who Bought Smartcard Reader? 1072

MImeKillEr writes "The Register is reporting that DirecTV is suing anyone known to have purchased a smartcard programmer, regardless of whether or not they're actually using the device to enable stealing their programming. They're sending out letters & when people call to clear up the confusion, DirecTV is demanding a $3500 settlement as well as the programming device. They've filed 9000 federal lawsuits against alleged pirates thus far. They're obtaining lists of who purchased the devices during raids against the sites that offer them for sale."
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DirecTV Sues Anyone Who Bought Smartcard Reader?

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  • BARRATRY! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:12PM (#6464023) Homepage
    So... they're demanding to sue en masse like this? Using lawsuits and demanding massive settlements? Isn't this the definition of barratry---abuse of the legal system for extortion? If so, do smartcard reader owners have the basis for a class action?

    --grendel drago
    • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by imaro ( 584142 ) <`ten.ocdim.ois' `ta' `2orami'> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:16PM (#6464083)
      Seems like people would have an excellent suit in response to false claims. If the device was not used to facilitate an illegal activity, then its libel/slander. You could atleast go to court for emotion damages, and a judge would probably make the defendent pay lawyer's fees for the victim.
      • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Carbonite ( 183181 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:38PM (#6464377)
        If the device was not used to facilitate an illegal activity, then its libel/slander

        I don't believe you're correct. The definiton of libel is:

        1a. A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation.
        b. The act of presenting such material to the public.
        2. The written claims presented by a plaintiff in an action at admiralty law or to an ecclesiastical court.


        1. Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person's reputation.
        2. A false and malicious statement or report about someone

        DirecTV doesn't seem to have committed either crime. However this might be considered malicious prosecution:

        Malicious prosecution is a common law intentional tort. While similar to the tort of abuse of process it is the misuse of a prior legal process (civil or criminal) that is dismissed in favor of the victim that was brought without probable cause with intentional malice by the defendant.

        • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:51PM (#6464517)
          A letter asserting that you have stolen sattelite tv because you own a smart card programmer potentially fits several of the items you list because:
          1) Owning a smart card programmer absolutley does NOT mean that you stole a signal any more than owning a car is indisputable proof that you are a drunk driver, so the letters that have been sent to people do contain false statements.
          2) Being accused of a felony IS damaging to a persons reputation.
          • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by TheCarp ( 96830 ) * <sjc@@@carpanet...net> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:39PM (#6465073) Homepage
            However it can only damage your reputation if it is public. The threatening letter is sent specifically to you by the party who is accusing you (or a duely authorized agent in their name) - it is not apublic declaration.

            Now, if they published these letters on their website, or released the names of all the people that they were accusing to the local paper, that would fit.

            Basically...if I ring your doorbell and when you answer I tell you "I think you are a souless satan worshipping ballbag" thats nothing (well maybe harrassment or tresspassing if I don't leave when you tell me to).

            but if I go to your neibors door and when he answers I tell him you are a soulless satan worshipping ballbag...thats slander.

            If I take an ad out in the paper and tell the readershoip that you are a soulless satan worshipping ballbag... thats libel.

            See? :)

            • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Greedo ( 304385 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @06:29PM (#6466117) Homepage Journal
              So the trick would be (if you get one of these letters) to ignore it and wait for them to file suit against you.

              The suit is in the public record, so then it's libel (assuming you really are innocent).

              If enough people have the cojones to ignore the threats, then DirectTV will have to show it's cards or STFU.

              Actually, it still comes back to barratry, I think. Like another poster said, this is no different than someone suing you for drunk driving because they have a record of you buying a car. The one doesn't imply the other. And, even if I were a drunk driver, they can't search me based on the fact that I bought a car.

              Okay, the analogy is getting weak, but doesn't this all boil down to just legal intimidation ...?
      • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Informative)

        by LordKronos ( 470910 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:40PM (#6464410)
        Did you read the article? A group of 7 people filed a suit against them claiming extortion. The judge ruled in favor of DirecTV and awarded DirecTV $100,000 in lawyers fees. Not only did these people get screwed out of $3500 each, they got screwed out of another $14000 each trying to fight the company.
        • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:42PM (#6465097)
          A group of 7 people filed a suit against them claiming extortion. The judge ruled in favor of DirecTV and awarded DirecTV $100,000 in lawyers fees.

          In that particular case, the article also notes, the judge ruled that because the letters were sent in connection with litigation, they were subject to legal privilege. The case is currently being appealed. With one exception, the article doesn't note whether the people concerned did anything like writing to DirecTV before taking them to court in the class action suit.

          Incidentally, for anyone else who didn't RTFA, there are also mentions of several innocent users who have successfully fought this, amusingly including a guy whom the judge decided was an unlikely culprit, given that he didn't even own a satellite dish.

    • Unfortunately.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SpaceTaxi ( 170395 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:25PM (#6464224) Homepage

      ...it appears that abuse and extortion are what our legal system is all about. Its not about justice, its about who has the deeper pockets.

      "Send lawyers, guns and money..."

      • Re:Unfortunately.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by DocMiata ( 182708 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:56PM (#6464590)
        DTV uses other lies to "extort" money out of their legitimate subscribers as well.

        A friend of mine got laid off for a few months, and couldn't pay her DTV bill for the 4 legit boxes she had purchased and used in her home. When she got back to work and decided to have her service restored, she called DTV and the customer service rep. told her she'd have to pay $20 each for new smart cards (times 4 boxes) before they'd restore her service. She informed them all of those boxes were working *before* they cut her off, what changed? Once she got hostile with the rep. he admitted she really didn't need new cards and turned her service back on. I wondered then how many other folks paid the $20 per card just to get service back? (Note this was in addition to the "reconnect fee" she did have to pay.)

        • Re:Unfortunately.. (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:21PM (#6464875)
          They wanted her to get new P4 cards, which are unhackable. Her older HU (football player) cards are hackable, so they'd rather not have those reactivated.
          • Re:Unfortunately.. (Score:5, Informative)

            by Talking Goat ( 645295 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @06:15PM (#6465967)
            "They wanted her to get new P4 cards, which are unhackable.

            Ahem. Excuse me? I think you meant Not yet hacked in the public domain... The history of this hobby will show you that a new hack doesn't usually show it's face on the scene until there is some sort of significant problem with the current hack. When "Black Sunday" occurred back in 2001, all those former H card users were fodder for the sale of the new HU hack. As it turned out, the H card was revived with the advent of the bootloader, but the HU hack was out. Kind of conveinent that it showed up right when people needed it most, eh?

            Currently, the HU hack is safe, more or less. Nothing major seems to be on the horizon, and there is no "write-once" area on the HU as there was on the H, thus no "Black Sunday;" well, at least not via that same method. The only real threat to the HU hack currently is the HU swap out: customers receiving P4 cards to replace their HU cards. Once DTV believes that they have sucessfully replaced the majority of their customers' cards with P4's, they flip the switch and start removing HU authorizations packets from the stream. After that, the HU is a nice ice-scraper, more or less. And amazingly, mark my words, the P4 will miraculously be hacked! What luck!! Get a clue guys, its already done; its just a closely held secret until the masses need it most. Supply and demand folks.

            Only after the HU runs into a problem will the P4 hack become public. It's just a matter of time. Thus, your statement regarding the P4 being unhackable... Yeah, just like the H was claimed to be when it replaced the F card, and just like the HU was claimed to be when it replaced the H card. Bollocks sir, pure bollocks.
    • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:5, Informative)

      by kscheetz ( 86026 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:27PM (#6464248)
      A class action has already been tried and thrown out .From the article:
      To California lawyer Jeffrey Wilens, DirecTV's whole end-user campaign smells of extortion. Wilens filed a class action suit in Los Angeles last year accusing the company of exactly that. "Realizing that they don't have a legal position, they're just trying to use heavy-handed tactics to intimidate people, just like the record industry is going to be doing in the very near future," says Wilens. "At least the record industry will target people who `did it', instead of `could have done it.'"

      But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy disagreed, and in April dismissed the suit, ruling that DirecTV's demand letters were sent in connection with litigation, and were therefore legally privileged. The judge also awarded attorney's fees to DirecTV, putting Wilens' seven plaintiffs on the hook for a total of nearly $100,000 in law firm billables.
    • by jvbunte ( 177128 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:28PM (#6464273) Journal
      http://www.legal-rights.org is the best source of information if you are a target of a DTV tort letter or potentially sued by DTV.

      DTV sent out thousands of letters asking for the end user to settle out of court for $3500.00. If you ignore the letter, DTV sues you for $10,000.00 and gets a default judgement if you ignore that. Your best bet is to educate yourself (legal-rights.org, excellent place to start) and consult an attorney. A list of experienced attorneys is listed at legal-rights.org who have specifically dealt with these cases.
    • Re:BARRATRY! (Score:3, Informative)

      by shaunj ( 72350 )
      The article says that 7 plantiffs filed a class-action against DirecTV and it was ruled that DirecTV was in the right and the 7 people were also stuck with DirecTV's $100k legal bill from that case.
  • Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by L. VeGas ( 580015 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:13PM (#6464030) Homepage Journal
    Guess I better not call them.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:17PM (#6464095)
      They are gonna have a hard time when they send a notice to the address I had my card & reader shipped to:

      John Smith
      UPS Customer Counter - Hold for Pickup
      (my local UPS counter addy)

      Anyone who everr orderd a test card, set, etc., with a real addy and credit card is a moron.
      • by Talking Goat ( 645295 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:47PM (#6465162)
        "They are gonna have a hard time..."

        See, because you were actually intelligent in going about purchasing this stuff. I can't tell you how many sob stories I've heard from people in the "hobby" about the "letter." In the last 2-3 years, the DTV hacking market just blew up bigtime, and there were tons of sites that were selling equipment. In the mad rush to beat the competition, a ton of these places actually started accepting credit cards. WTF... The standard had always been money orders, find a reputable dealer (that isn't base in the U.S. dummies!!), buy your stuff, and have it sent to a safe address.

        Now you've got thousands of people with letters, dealers and fulfillment houses raided, and a bunch of dumb m***erf**kers that can't figure out how they got busted.

        While I totally disagree with the tactics that DTV is employing, all I can say is what in the f**k do you guys expect?!?!

        Simple fact is that the letters that these people got were not sent because they bought a generic smart card reader/writer. They bought devices with (usually) Atmel AT90S2313-10PC I.C.'s on them which were programmed with a flash that had no other purpose than to circumvent the security on a DTV access card. Now, I don't have a problem with DTV getting ripped off; I could care less. But the fact remains that these devices are illegal access devices, and as such, are illegal. Sucks, yeah, but that's why you have to be f**king careful when you buy this stuff!!!!
  • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rosewood ( 99925 ) <rosewoodNO@SPAMchat.ru> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:13PM (#6464031) Homepage Journal
    Well, if they can get a guy convicted for something he was planning to do and had not done it yet (and it wasn't murder) then why cant they sue people for things they haven't done?

    I mean, its sick-twisted-wrong but it makes sense unfortunatly.

  • Great! (Score:4, Funny)

    by brakk ( 93385 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:13PM (#6464034) Homepage
    This is exactly what we need to clog up out legal system! I guess the murderers and rapists can wait, someone's stealing TV!!!
  • Newsflash: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrollBridge ( 550878 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:14PM (#6464040) Homepage Journal
    There is a big difference between a smartcard reader (from the headline) and a smartcard programmer (from the article).

    Is this sensationalism or an honest mistake?

    • Re:Newsflash: (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xciton ( 84642 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:22PM (#6464172)
      Actually, there is NO difference what so ever between the two.


      A smartcard reader/programmer is nothing more than a voltage converter attached to a serial port.

      The act of sending a command to the ISO card to get a response is the same as programming it. You either ask for a value in return, or you store a value in a specific location. The protocol method is the same in both cases.
      There is no "high voltage" eeprom line to enable programming it (in this case at least)

      The big difference is a DUMB ISO programmer (where the data lines are controlled by the PC) and a smart programmer where they have protocols embedded in the hardware ISO programmer to conform to ISO protocol standards. That's a different case all together...
      • Re:Newsflash: (Score:4, Informative)

        by b.foster ( 543648 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:49PM (#6464500)
        The big difference is a DUMB ISO programmer (where the data lines are controlled by the PC) and a smart programmer where they have protocols embedded in the hardware ISO programmer to conform to ISO protocol standards. That's a different case all together...

        Not necessarily, but it is true in this case. The "smart" programmers favored by DSS thieves have extra logic that glitches the card's supply voltage and clock line to circumvent the card's security. That is the major (legal) distinction.

        One of my neighbors used to brag all the time about having this sort of setup, but he was none too happy when the sheriff's department nailed him for selling hacked cards and then turned over his customer list to DTV for lawsuit purposes. I guess there is justice in this world.

    • Re:Newsflash: (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:34PM (#6464319)
      I used to program these guys, and this is the 1st time I've heard of a "smartcard programmer". So what is this big difference?

      For a little background, smartcards vary greatly in how "smart" they are. In fact, the first smartcards used in DirectTV systems were simple memory cards that had little or no tampering protection (they may of had a checksum for the ID number, but thats it). People used to put new cards on their devices and simply become another customer.

      Later versions used encryption and/or public/private keys, which were much more difficult to hack, but some of these too can be hijacked like a man in the middle attack by putting a device between the card and the reader, but this is rare.

      Personally, I find this hilarious. Let them go around suing people for all I care. All of the burdon of proof is on them to prove that you were stealing thier service. That would be very difficult to attempt if the person they were sueing did not do anything, like the sucker in the article that just wrote them a check.
  • Target card (Score:5, Funny)

    by gouldtj ( 21635 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:14PM (#6464050) Homepage Journal
    Damn it! I knew I should have read the fine print when I applied for that Target card - but I didn't realize it was going to cost me $3500! Get a free smartcard reader [target.com]
  • by linuxislandsucks ( 461335 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:15PM (#6464055) Homepage Journal
    SmartCard readers? They are suing the DoD?
  • So who paid cash? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tjwhaynes ( 114792 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:15PM (#6464061)
    This sounds like one of those cases where paying cash for 'grey' goods is a smart move. Unless they have some other means of tracking smartcard owners? Not that I have, want or need a smartcard reader or DirecTV for that matter (there is little enough on telly to warrant much more than basic cable for the occassional sporting event). It'll be interesting to watch who pays up, who fights it in court and just whether any of this activity will dampen the desire for smartcard readers. Cheers, Toby Haynes
    • Re:So who paid cash? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:27PM (#6464249) Homepage
      This sounds like one of those cases where paying cash for 'grey' goods is a smart move.

      no it's not.

      I have 2 smartcard programmers. Cince I have a side business of home automation I still support a few customers who use the old smartcard technology for home access. (The newer ones have moved to Ibuttons, more secure, better,cheaper,etc...)

      So DirectTV can kiss my shiny metal ass. They are NOT getting my programmers.

      I am sick of asshat companies like this trying to blanket cover everyone with X device as evil.

      What about the computer security professionals or open source developers writing the smartcard parts of the linux login systems? what about the thousands of other people who have perfectly legitimate uses for a stack of blank smartcards and a programmer?

      Direct TV... go to hell.
  • so... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bani ( 467531 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:15PM (#6464068)
    ...if someone's name is falsely or erroneously in one of these vendor's lists...?
  • CD Burners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LauraW ( 662560 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:16PM (#6464073)
    Next thing you know, the RIAA is going to sue everyone who's ever bought a CD burner. People might be using them to duplicate music CD's, after all, and that's (gasp!) illegal.

    -- Laura

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:16PM (#6464076)
    Are they doing this to people outside their market, such as Canada? They're not allowed to sell their service here, but I know several people who have grey market equipment and have purchased a card programmer.
  • by miyako ( 632510 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `okayim'> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:16PM (#6464084) Homepage Journal
    I don't know all the details, but I know that they tried to sue my uncle a couple of months ago for that, apparently he made a call to his lawyer and a couple of weeks later they had dropped the suit.
    I don't know all the details but if it is the same thing as it sounds, then I don't think people have a lot to worry about.
  • Yep. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Geekenstein ( 199041 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:19PM (#6464122)
    Old news, this. As for suing anybody who bought a smart card reader, that's bull. They are going after the customers of sites that pretty much state that use as the purpose of the product. The only possible defense is that the chips aren't programmed (usually) out of the store to write DTV's cards, but thats been even harder to use since the hardware itself is being put together to send the right kind of signals to break into their cards.

    That being said, they usually just demand money and the return of the equipment purchased. Of course the people they sue usually don't have the resources to fight the claims, so who knows if this will actually be tested in court?
  • by stmfreak ( 230369 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .kaerfmts.> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:19PM (#6464131) Journal
    ...Kwikset is suing everyone who bought paperclips and thin blade flathead screwdrivers in the last fifty years.

    Realizing that their locks can be circumvented with a modicum of patience and the above mentioned tools, Kiwkset raided sales records at local home and office supply chains to locate citizens who had purchased paperclips and screwdrivers. Citing that no one who purchased the two items in the same month could possibly be up to any good, Kwikset sent out cease and desist letters to approximately 40,000 citizens demanding that they turn over the screwdrivers and paperclips to local authorities.
  • Legal extortion. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wayward_son ( 146338 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:20PM (#6464136)
    This works because lawyers are expensive. To the average person, the legal fees required to fight it are greater than the settlement.

    So, in effect, what DirecTV is saying is "Give us $3500 or we will sue you." It doesn't matter if they have a case or not. They get $3500 or you pay more in legal fees.

    Actually, this is more like Tony Soprano's business model than anything.

  • Once again... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DJ Rubbie ( 621940 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:22PM (#6464168) Homepage Journal
    The bully has it their way.

    Imagine, an innocent person buying a product that could be used to reprogram other equipment, such as an electronic control for art exhibits, or access control at the keyboard, is now threatened to pay thousands of dollars in damages because a corporation decided that piece of equipment can be used to violate their protection schemes (and the DMCA). The hapless individual, fearing more lawsuits in federal courts (thus costing even more than the original sum of money), decides to pay up to this bully to avoid more troubles...

    Oh wait, that just happened. This is the kind of events we really should support the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for. If you happen to know anyone who are harmed by this, let them know about the EFF.
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:22PM (#6464187) Homepage
    Another illustration that the court system and the justice system are not always synonymous. In situations like this, whoever can afford more litigation costs wins. The only people who are going to challenge this sort of legal bullying are a few fanatics who will fight on principle, and the few who use smartcard programmers for some legitimate business purpose and can justify the expense. The rest will fold up and hand them over.
  • by Anthony Boyd ( 242971 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:24PM (#6464205) Homepage
    When he called the company to clear things up, he found they weren't interested in his explanations: they wanted $3,500 and the smart card programmer, or they would literally make a federal case out of it and sue him under anti-piracy laws. "I didn't know what to do, I was completely flabbergasted. So I sent the money in," says Sosa.

    You know, people like Sosa make this really difficult. DirecTV is doing something unethical, I believe. People are getting wrongfully accused in my opinion. But Sosa just rolled over and paid out $3500. These people are a problem because they help a bad system to stay bad. It makes it terribly difficult for me to have sympathy for someone who has such a lack of conviction, such a failed sense of justice. They don't care. Should we?

    • by rhadamanthus ( 200665 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:30PM (#6464280)
      A previous poster pointed out that his uncle, who got the letter too, merely phoned his lawyer and the case was dropped. So no, I don't give two shits about people like Sosa. If you are too dumb to learn the system (including your rights) or are too lazy/scared to fight it, that's your problem.


    • by No Such Agency ( 136681 ) <abmackay AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:41PM (#6464415)
      Sosa "doesn't care" because he's a doctor and he'd lose a lot more than $3500 in the time it'd take him to fight this (and be unlikely to recover those costs even if he did win). He said it himself, he's got a family to look after. Now if it was me, I'd send them a letter saying "See you in court", because I have nothing to lose. Compared to Dr. Sosa, my time is virtually worthless. I couldn't afford a lawyer, but I'd be willing to bet a judge would see it my way if I prepared a clear presentation explaining what I'd been using the device for (assuming I wasn't a pirate that is!). DirecTV would have NO proof I was using it to steal their signal, after all (since I wasn't).

      Call me naive, or what?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:28PM (#6464264)
    I got slapped with this recently for buying a smartcard programmer that I was using to play with Sunray terminals a few years back. I went to a lawyer (and of course had to pay him!) and sure enough the cheapest way out is to pay them the $3500 regardless of what you used the device for. The cases are filed in FEDERAL court. Federal court was described to me as "A vending machine that takes $10,000 coins...and several of them at that" to plead your case before a verdict is even reached. Worst thing about this is that I've been a Directv subscriber for years and PAY for all the channels! My lawyer contacted the EFF and they wouldn't do a damn thing. Needless to say Directv just lost my ~$100 a month which is pretty #$#& stupid considering it would only take 3 years to cover the $3500. So basically I'm out $4K including the lawyer for trying to do some neat stuff with smartcard authentication.
  • What is the difference between a smart card reader and a smart card programmer? That you can glitch the card with the programmer? I can (and do) "program" smart cards with any old ISO-7816 compliant reader.

    Do I need something other than a PC attached smart card reader and a knowledge of how to send an APDU to the card to unloop it? What is it that makes the "programmer" special?

    The term "smart card reader" often confuses those new to smart cards. All "smart card readers" are also "smart card writers" (a term which will give you away as a newbie) in that they can send information to the card and recieve information from it.

  • by cdf12345 ( 412812 ) * on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:33PM (#6464313) Homepage Journal
    A friend of mine was targeted by this lawsuit,
    I have placed scans of the 9 page pre-filing
    that Directv sent him.

    This is really a bad move, I'm hoping someone with some money to burn fights it since it's a DMCA issue.

  • by AllieA ( 170303 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:35PM (#6464339) Homepage
    Isn't it "nice" to be living in the US while seeing a steadily increasing move towards arresting/detaining/suing people who "might" commit a crime, instead of actually waiting until they commit it?

    And you don't even have to threaten to do so anymore. All you need to do is have the ethnicity/equipment/political affiliation that labels you as someone who "could" commit a crime.

    I have an MP3 player at home and MP3's on my PC, so I *MUST* be downloading copyrighted music.
    I have a CD Burner in my laptop, so I *MUST* be copying software.
    I am not a Republican, so I *MUST* be engaging in sedicious activity.

    And alot of people/politicians/companies seem to be jumping on the through crime/preventive detention/suing before the fact bandwagon these days.

    Scary indeed.
  • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:36PM (#6464348) Homepage
    I was going to buy one of those smartcard programmers to steal free wash and dry in my building's laundry room. But now DirecTV is going to sue me if I do. Damn you!
  • by dmeranda ( 120061 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:39PM (#6464394) Homepage

    Clearly these suits are not designed to go to court; they are designed to get people to turn themselves in and get these devices off the street. US$3500 is too cheap for anybody who really is guilty by intent to take it to court. And the "guilty" probably are the majority of the people who bought from those sites.

    Of course the problem is those who are innocent. Courts have shown in the past that if you buy a device like this with the intent to perform a crime, then you are guilty even if you didn't carry through on that crime. And as the sites advertised as such, showing that was your intent is much easier.

    However there are very legitimate uses for these devices, just as the article shows, and innocent people will get caught up in this. Just because the site may advertise this device as being useful for cracking DirecTV, I may very well buy it for other purposes if the price was cheap. Think about someone selling hardened-steel axes for $5.00 with the advert "You can chop down your neighbor's door with this!"...but at $5.00 I would probably buy one to cut my firewood. If it's not inherently an illegal device (which smartcard programmers are not) and my intended use was not illegal then I did nothing wrong. My intented use doesn't have to match that of the advertiser.

    Until this point I've actually respected DirecTV's anti-piracy approach; mainly by counter-hacking and outsmarting the illegal crackers. But now they are going to snare a lot of innocent folks in an expensive legal trap, and setting a bad example for other corporations to try. The innocent should be able to beat this without too much effort, but it will sadly cost them a lot of money and time to prove their innocence.

  • by HaeMaker ( 221642 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:40PM (#6464411) Homepage
    I don't know if there is a US law that is complimentary, but in California, there is a law against filing too many frivolous lawsuits called the "vexatious litigant" law. If you are designated a vexatious litigant, you have to get a judge's permission before filing a lawsuit. If you file a lawsuit without a judges permission you are considered in contempt of court and are sent to jail immediately. EFF?
  • by Lucretius ( 110272 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:46PM (#6464464)
    This is an interesting tactic by DirectTV. From the sounds of it, this really isn't that expensive a way for them to not only stop some no-effort hackers from stealing their signal (as we all know, there are many who just won't stop because they are sent a letter like this), and make some revenue at the same time. I mean, if one of their operators makes 1 settlement per month, they have most likely more than paid their salary. Of course, they have to pay the lawyers a bit of money to sign these letters, but most likely not all that much (my guess is that very few of these actually go to trial, that would take money on DirectTV's side of the game as well).

    What I'm curious about is if there is any organization of a class action suit against DirectTV, where the class is the people who have been incorrectly identified by DirectTV as pirates? They would most likely be liable for mental anguish and defamation as well (seriouslly, blaming someone for being a pirate could be very damaging to them, especially to buisiness people).

    Here's to hopin'
  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @03:50PM (#6464512) Homepage Journal
    About a year ago our roomate bought a dish networks dish from her cousin that sells and installs the systems. He also sold her a smartcard reader that enabled "all the channels"

    My wife seeing "All the channels" kept insisting that we get the same system. I reluctantly agreed to let her do it (I thought our cable was just fine though) How could one go wrong with the setup though? Every channel on direct TV (including playboy =D ) for the price of a basic subsciption.

    Well about a month after we got the system we started to have problems. Dish networks sent out a signal that required us to reprogram the card. No problem, just insert the card into the programmer, attatch to computer and run a few things to update it... Cool works again. You could never tell when or where they were going to strike with the "zap signal" again. Sometimes I would come home, flip on the TV and get an error message. Nothing more irritating than having to reprogram your card every time you sit down to watch TV.

    Then the zap signals got worse, they didn't just fry the smartcard, they actually fried the flash on the base unit. So we would be without TV for a week or so while we waited for our roomates cousin to come over, take the box apart, put some hokey looking things with pins across the pins of the flash chip and reflash the unit.

    She would start the most ill logic fights with me "DON'T WATCH TV WHEN YOU GET HOME OR WE'LL GET ZAPPED!" she would tell me. WTF is it for then if not to watch it? (I don't think it really mattered if I was watching or not, the unit seems to be in a constant on state)

    After 4 months of this shit, I finally gave up on the card reader. I set all our cards back to thier defaults and tossed them in my junk pile. I told my wife I better not catch her using it again or I would just rip the entire dishTV system out and there would be NO TV.

    Now she won't get rid of the damn thing for the sake of argument. I told her from the get go I didn't really think it was a keen idea, and I think the only reason we're keeping it past the 1 year contract is because she doesn't want to admit it was a stupid purchase.

    Well anyways, our roomates cousin sold a lot of these 1 year subscriptions this way. Despite knowing the problems with it, he still continues to use this as a sales device to this day. We've had a number of friends that went for "all the channels" only to come home to a black screen or an error message.

    I just think it's irony that they're suing people for buying into their #1 sales hook. Hook line and sinker.
  • by capedgirardeau ( 531367 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:06PM (#6464694)

    The whole premise is wrong in my opinion, I think I should be able to do what I want with things people give to me or leave on my property.

    If you are beaming your signals into my property, my house, my body, my kids, etc, I will damn well do what I please with them!

    I almost have a duty to intercept them and decode them and make sure they are not harmful in anyway.

    If they arrived unsolicited in the physical mail they would be mine to keep by federal law no questions asked.

    You don't want me to do anything with them?? Then keep them off my land and out of my body, problem solved.

    These are physical radio waves, you are dumping them on my property and I can't do what I want with them?

    I dont think so....

  • by rnelsonee ( 98732 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:33PM (#6465008)
    Just FYI, the sites that sell hacking equipment for DirecTV sell "glitchers" and "unloopers". They are devices that work as standard ISO smartcard readers, as well as standard ISO programmers. Nothing wrong there. In fact, many of the sites sell standard programmers for those that want to tinker with it. But to hack a DirecTV card, you need the "glitching" function. Basically, the glitcher will initiate communication with the DirecTV card. It then tells the card it wants to write to the card's memory. At this point, the card goes through a security algorithm. Since no one has found the right keys to hack the DirecTV cards, the glitcher simply cuts it's own power and throws the clock out of phase. It then supplies the normal 5V again. This all happens very quickly, so the security steps are simply skipped. It's obvious that this device is used to circumvent the card's secuirty, hence it's illegal to purchase, own, and use. Convenient for DirecTV, since they don't even have to prove you're stealing their signal. Simply buying one is a crime.
  • Rule 11 (Score:5, Informative)

    by angio ( 33504 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @04:34PM (#6465017) Homepage
    They shouldn't have sued for extortion. In the case of the guy who didn't own a TV, he should have informed DirectTV that he wasn't using it to pirate software, etc., and then if DirectTV had filed suit against them, should have filed a Rule 11 filing against DirectTV's attorney for failing to do due dilligence before filing the lawsuit:

    Federal rules of civil procedure, Rule 11 [cornell.edu]

    (b) Representations to Court.

    By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances,--

    (1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation;

    (2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions therein are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law;

    (3) the allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

    (4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on a lack of information or belief.

    People are too intimidated by lawsuits, and it's a crime that they let companies like DirectTV bully them into forking over a few grand. Of course, it's also pretty awful that to defend themselves against this kind of thing would probably cost $10k+...

  • by n0cturnal79 ( 690290 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @05:45PM (#6465738)
    Yes, I have been served with papers, and trust me. . . this whole thing sucks.

    I was served at work, where i am a unofficial IT guy, with my fellow co-workers looking on as if i were a dangerous criminal. (Embarassing does not even begin to explain the feeling.) My first reaction was, WTF is this? I have never been sued before, i have never been in any kind of trouble before, hell, i have not had a speeding ticket in over 10 years. . . . but low and behold, here was a document stating that i am being sued for $120,000 by a company that i have been a long standing customer with for many years. As i read on, i found out that it was for a Smart Card Programmer. Once again that WTF feeling came back. . . . I purchased this equipment over 2 years ago for a security project that never got off of the ground. A company that i worked for wanted a better way to keep control over who used the company network, i found some info on smart cards, did a search for "smart card programmer" and purchased the cheapest unit i could find. (about $160 if memory serves me correctly), Only to find out that it would not work for what i wanted to do. And now im being sued! And as i said earlier, i am a DTV customer, have been for 6 years. If i were going to hack TV cards, you would think that i would do mine first!

    Just to make one thing clear, I am a poor guy, And as a poor guy, there are not many options for me to take. Anyway, i dont want to rant about this, however i believe that it is a great injustice. This is just extortion, plain and simple. I was told that i could settle for $4,500 before i went to court, or $10,000 after the court process had began. Alternatively, i could fight it, and the cheapest lawyer would be on the average of $15,000 by the time it is all over. Obviously, not a "poor boy" option. And since it is a civil case, i am not entitled to a court appointed lawyer. So the only option left for me is to fight it myself. Which, if any of you have ever looked into the paperwork involved in a Federal Civil Case, looks like i have just over a snowball's chance in hell.

    So if i go to court and loose, by law, they can take what little i have, and then some. One option that they could take is garnishment, and being that this is a Lawsuit for damages, they could take a chunk of my pay check for the next 25 years! I only make $12 an hour now, and have a wife and 2 kids, so this is not a good thing for a person who is just barely making it. This Lawsuit is designed to crush people like me so that people who have the money to pay the ransom, will do so.
    • by Hank Reardon ( 534417 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @06:57PM (#6466300) Homepage Journal
      Ok, you need to call the EFF right now and see if they can put you in touch with a lawyer who will do either pro bono work or possibly work on a contingency basis. IANAL, but I believe that the puntitive damage statutes for frivolous Federal law suits are gigantic. Since this clearly is a lawsuit without base, as you are currently their customer and have purchased the device, you could be in a position to get substantially more than that $12 per hour, and become a folk hero at the same time.

      Were I in your shoes, I'd do everything I could to find a lawyer who fits the criteria and slap an extortion and harrassment counter suit, naming damages in the $100 million range. Then refuse to settle.

      If you can't find a lawyer who meets the above criteria, contact CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews or some other national news outlet to see if they'd be interested in running your story.

      Once it hits TV, lawyers will crawl out of the woodwork to help just for the noteriety.

      Good luck!

  • I'm on the fence (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @06:35PM (#6466160)
    On one hand, I despise litigation like this.

    On the other hand, I wish all the people who take broadcast decoding for granted would go to hell.

    You see, I would never go to the trouble of using a device to decode scrambled broadcast signals. It's just not the sort of contraption that interests me. I tend to do without entertainment rather than meet such a barrier to its consumption. It's in the same category of "not going to the theatre because the parking lot is too full."

    But this DTV thing goes much further than that.

    You see, I know PLENTY of people who use a clandestine tv receiver. I've watched them gloat over their cards as if they had found a Willie Mays rookie card in an attic or something. I've seen them setup all kinds of PC contraptions to fake the receiver. Sure, I run in a circle of nerds, students, blacksmiths, musicians, and accountants, so my experience is somewhat skewed -- but still, I've never met ANYBODY who actually pays retail for DTV, yet I know all kinds of people who do the whole card-hacking trick.

    From my limited sample, I've deduced that a large number of people get their signals for free.

    Because I know this, I would never, ever, buy the service. Wouldn't even consider it. I don't care what it costs. Knowing that a large number of people get it free, and take getting it free for granted, is enough to stop me from any consideration of buying it. As far as doing the card thing, I could care less. If I were going to put that much effort into anything, it would be toward my music gear, not my TV. I'd do without TV first.

    So in a way, part of me hopes the plaintiff prevails. I'd be a lot happier if they could come up with a technical solution that works -- because I know the legal solution never will.

    Seriously. If I didn't have knowledge that the service was commonly gotten for free, I might take notice of the product. Might even consider buying it. But not in the current situation.
    Even if it's worth the price, I'd not voluntarily enter into something that makes me feel like a chump.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @06:50PM (#6466258)
    ... a gun cannot be qualified as a circumvention device.

    So, you cant be sued for having a gun (and possibly killing a person in the future) -- but you can be sued for having bought a card reader?!?

    Oops, almost forgot! Were talking about profits here, not lives!

    My bad... :-/
  • by Ath ( 643782 ) on Friday July 18, 2003 @07:52AM (#6469532)
    I received a letter. I ignored it. I received the second letter and a form lawsuit complaint with my name filled in. I wrote a response letter. Now we will see what they do, but I can tell you their verbal position was "Pay or we will sue you."

    I did quite a bit of reading and luckily, there are quite a few victories against DTV now. I learned the following points which are very important.

    1) DTV is suing based only on the purchase of a smart card programmer.

    2) DTV never does any additional research to determine whether the named defendant could or is stealing the satellite signal.

    3) DTV verbally assures you that purchase and/or possession is enough proof.

    4) Every judge so far has disagreed and ruled in favor of the defendant who fights the lawsuit.

    5) DTV wins a lot of default judgments because defendants ignore the lawsuit.

    6) DTV includes a claim that it can sue you under a federal criminal law. Judges have ruled every time that this is not true and dismiss this claim.

    The fact is, DTV is losing in every single case where someone fights it. Why? Because they only have the purchase records for a smart card programmer. This is not enough legally.

    As everyone has already said, DTV is setting the settlement amount so that people will settle instead of pay more to an attorney. I personally dispute this conclusion, as many experienced attorneys can now make this go away for a lot less than $3,500.

    And lest you think I am just one of those guilty people who wants to fight, I will add a little fact to the details. I live in Europe. That's right. If DTV sues me, they have a little problem proving that I stole their signal because it is completely IMPOSSIBLE! But they have another little problem. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will let me get quite some money if they sue me with such a frivolous lawsuit. Ya see, DTV doesn't know something else about me. I'm a pissed off attorney right now.

Gravity is a myth, the Earth sucks.