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March 15, 2009

Satellite piracy costing industry billions

TECHNOLOGY - The Canadian Motion Pictures Distribution Association estimates that the total loss to the industry from satellite piracy in 2001 alone was about $1 billion – and that number is likely far higher in 2009.

Satellite companies, including Bell ExpressVu in Canada and United States-based DISH Network have been fighting back. The companies are switching to a tough new encryption system while using the threat of court action to prevent television piracy.

But tech advocates point out that satellite piracy is both difficult to prove, but those threats aren't taken seriously. And encryptions? Like DVD encryptions, such things can easily be cracked by a skilled techie.

Satellite companies like to remind users that theft of signal not only means less subscription revenue for providers, but a fall in ratings for TV stations which translates into lost advertising revenue... and results in canceled shows.

Los Angeles-based media analysts The Carmel Group estimates there are at least two million illegal television households in the United States and Canada, out of a total of approx. 15 million legal households.

These days satellite piracy is growing quickly, competing with illegal cable hookups and online downloading in an ever growing trend towards free content.

Buying a dish and a receiver costs less than $200 CDN, plus a little know-how on how to hack in to the satellite system (info easily available online) is surprisingly easy. That or hire a teenager to do it for you. The end result is 200 channels, including pay-per-view movies and the movie network, and no monthly bill.

"I can't believe I was actually paying for cable before," says one anonymous user called James, who does it so he can watch the Tennis channel.

These "Free To Air" satellite receivers are widely available throughout Canada. While buying equipment is not a crime, modifying it to access subscription signals is, but very difficult to prove or find. Free to Air is widely available in Europe, where television and radio broadcasts are typically sent unencrypted. There are approx. 250 Free to Air channels in North America, mostly specialty channels.

An USB port on the satellite receiver allows users to change the internal programming after downloading software from the internet. Download the latest encryption codes, install, done. Furthermore the new encryption only effects new channels.

The Canadian cable and satellite industry is lobbying government to toughen laws against piracy, including harsher sentences for pirates, but has neglected to suggest a way to actually FIND the pirates. They want to raise the threat level in order to scare pirates, but the ability to find and catch pirates is non-existent.

There have been a few people caught and charged, but its in such small numbers its not taken seriously. Police don't take it seriously either. If anything, the police are just as guilty of illegal downloading and satellite piracy as much as the next guy. Everyone does it.

The industry, short on advertising funding during the new internet age and the American recession, is also short on cash to fund hiring private investigators to find satellite pirates.

Bell ExpressVu is also targeting people who both sell FTA receivers and have websites that promote piracy, demanding they pay a $1,000 fine and hand over the equipment to Bell.

But the new tactics isn't scaring pirates. "They'll have to pry the remote control out of my hands before I give it up," says anonymous pirate James.

See Also:
The Napster Revolution
The Cultural Netolution
Advertising in America

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