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Satellite TV Hacking Is Illegal, But Not A $100,000 Offense

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Hackers who use reformatted "smart cards" to tap into DirecTV's satellite signals are not liable for a $100,000 fine under the Federal Communications Act, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

DirecTV customers buy an access card that decrypts satellite signals, but pirates have figured out how to reprogram or replace authentic cards with illicit decoder technology that lets users get the signal for free. The Act's hefty fine targets companies that make and sell pirating technology, not individual hackers, the circuit ruled. "Congress intended to treat differently individuals who played different roles in the pirating system," Judge Fletcher wrote in the 2-1 ruling. Judge Siler dissented, saying the Act "does not limit its application to manufacturers and sellers." If it stands, the decision could have broad implications for the numerous lawsuits DirecTV files against hackers. See ruling.

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