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Russian-Language TV Pirater Loses Appeal

(CN) - The 7th Circuit upheld an order barring Cable America from distributing pirated Russian-language satellite TV to 20 apartment complexes in Illinois.

In each case, Cable America connected a single subscriber's DirecTV or Dish Network satellite receiver to the property's master antenna system, "allowing Cable America to distribute Russian-language programming throughout the building without the many other customers having to pay DirecTV or Dish Network," the ruling states.

Russian-speaking tenants paid Cable America $25 to $30 a month for the service, and Cable America shared none of the fees with the companies whose signals it pirated.

Russian Media Group (RMG) sued Cable America owner Shai Harmelech and his companies, claiming the scam blocked it from competing with DirecTV and Dish Network in those 20 apartment buildings.

"Harmelech's business model, at least for the last several years, has been quite simply to steal television programming and then to resell it at a discount," Judge David Hamilton wrote for the three-judge panel.

"Just as a fence can sell stolen watches for less than a jewelry store charges for legitimate goods, this dishonest business model allowed Cable America to compete unfairly against RMG."

RMG's $39.99 monthly fee includes the costs of legally obtaining the programming and maintaining the transmission hardware.

Granting RMG's request for an injunction, U.S. District Judge John Darrah said the defendants violated the Illinois Cable Piracy Act.

But Harmelech refused to disconnect the illegally configured receivers, arguing that USA Satellite, not Cable America, controlled the receivers.

The judge held him in contempt of court, and when Harmelech again failed to comply with the order, Darrah authorized RMG to disconnect the receivers.

The defendants argued that the injunction was too broad, because it blocks them from transmitting even legal programming to the apartment buildings.

The Chicago-based appeals court was not persuaded.

"In light of the extensive evidence of the defendants' misconduct, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in writing the injunction as it did: targeted at the wrongdoing, but broad enough to be effective," Hamilton wrote.

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