DirectTV: Is this stealing?

I was just reading about this article on Slashdot about some arrests under the DMCA. Apparently, the way DirectTV works is that its satellites beam the signal everywhere, and all the dish does is decrypt that signal. Perhaps all satellite TV works that way, actually, since I’m sure they can’t just beam the signal to the subscribers’ homes.

Anyway, the people arrested built programs and hardware that could grab this signal and decrypt it for free TV. Now, there are plenty at Slashdot saying that this IS illegal, but there are counterarguments I find rather interesting, seizing on the fact that, right now, you and I are having satellite TV beamed into our homes, whether we want it or not. Why can’t we decrypt it using our own stuff, the counterargument goes, since they’re essentially forcing the signal into our homes without our consent, and htus have no more ownership over?

Now, I think that’s how the basic gist of the argument goes, but you can check out the thread itself too. Not having known about how satellite TV works, I kind of find this argument interesting. So let me toss the question out to da Dopers: is this information free? :slight_smile:

According to the DMCA, it is a crime to decrypt anything commercial, with a few explicit educational and debugging (your own software) exceptions. It’s even illegal to tinker around with something - like teach your Sony AIBO dog to square dance by soldering in a new chip you made.

So yes, it is illegal to tinker around with the satellite signals constantly being beamed into your house 24/7. Thank your congressman/woman for this horrible law.

I would say that yes it is illegal, though in a greyer area then file sharing.

It’s as illegal as obtaining cable pay-per-view or premium channels without paying for them. The signal comes into your house, but you aren’t allowed to make use of it unless you subscribe.

Of course, this is GD.

I believe it should be legal. Electromagnetic radiation comes into everyone’s home, and once it leaves the satellite, the satellite company has no right to decide what people can do with it. They don’t own that radiation any more than I own the light that reflects off my car. Prohibiting someone from decoding a signal that comes into his house is as absurd as prohibiting him from looking out his window.

Naturally, the satellite companies only want paying customers to decode the signals, and they have every right to scramble or encrypt the signals to make them hard to decode without a subscription - but the hackers (should) have the same right to try to unscramble them.

To add to what Mr2001 said, the cable companies/satellite companies don’t need the government to make decrypting their signals a crime (and no, it’s nothing like walking into Best Buy and stealing a DVD). Ditto with software companies. They are free to put whatever anti-piracy devices on their products they want to, but the government should stay out of it. No fines, no jailtime - this is not a crime.

If I buy a Region 2 DVD and want to play it on my Region 1 DVD player, the MPAA/DVD player companies should not be able to get the police involved. Maybe they can come up with some creative private cause of action - same with the “piracy” of decrypting what they’re sending into my own home 24 hours a day - but this is NO crime. That’s the big problem (there are many others) with the DMCA.

see for more info.

My view – What I do with my o-scope in the privacy of my home is my business.

Take a look see at:

There is a non-DMCA law that directly covers DirecTV theft. 47 USC 605. It’s clearly illegal without any of this theoretical stuff. I don’t know why they are bothering with the DMCA charges, since they also charged most of the defendants under this law. Test case maybe?

(BTW, there is also a federal law specifically prohibiting cable theft: 47 USC 553.)

the bottom line is, if I have lawful posession of something (including the satellite waves in my house) I should be able to use it in any way that doesn’t harm someone else (i.e. I can’t take my DVD player and whack you over the head with it - that would be assault - but I can solder in a mod chip to make it region-free).

I’d agree that the DirecTV thing is stealing. But as for Region codes on DVDs and video games, I think that’s ridiculous. You are paying for a legal copy of the product, why shouldn’t you be able to use it? This is especially maddening for video gamers, because there are a lot of games that never make it out of Japan. Or, try getting your hands on a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in Japan.

But defeating region control is perfectly legal. I have a region-free DVD player purchased legally. Most mail order stores in the US are willing to ship Region 1 (US) DVDs to Japan - even Amazon, who is usually very strict about where each products can be sold to. (I couldn’t get them to send me a US-spec Magellan GPS receiver, for example.)

I am thinking of getting a VCR or DVD player that plays all regions, or at least more than one region. (I have a friend who has a VCR that plays PAL tapes. Has had this type of VCR for years.) Best Buy is selling the DVDs, it’s obviously not illegal.

I should say, BestBuy is selling the DVD players, so it’s obviously not illegal.

A long time ago, the US government decided that the EM spectrum should be treated like a publicly owned natural resource, somewhat akin to this country’s navigable waterways. I don’t really have much of a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the government trying to tell me what I can and can’t do with that broadcast signal once it’s left the airwaves and has hit my reciever.

This is casuistry–the satellite waves are not yours, even if they are in your house.

Look at a different situation: someone leaves a bunch of merchandise on the corner of your street (with a permit from the city to do so). There’s a sign that says: if you take something, please mail payment to x address. There’s a price tag on every box. If you take something, and don’t mail the payment, you’re stealing. The fact that the theft is not just easy, but extremely convenient, makes it no less theft.

Likewise, you have no right to decrypt the satellite signals that are in the radiation-spectrum in your house, since you have no ownership of the radiation-spectrum in your house. In other words, the fact that the satellite signal is within the bounds of your property gives you no rights to it, so to take it and use it without paying for it is theft, plain and simple.

First of all, your analogy is no good. The sidewalk is public property. The city can’t issue a permit for those folks to leave a bunch of merchandise in my front yard…(and if they did, it would NOT be stealing).

Even if it were true that I have no ownership of the waves entering my house, then I should be within my rights to demand that the satellite company not PUT them into my house. Yes, I know there’s no way they can do that short of turning off the satellite. Ain’t that just too bad for them.

This is the very reason that radar detectors are legal in most states. Most state courts (with a couple backward obstreperous exceptions) have ruled that you have the right to receive and make what use you will of any signal entering your private property (i.e. your car).

If the whiners simply can’t make it “too hard” to be worth decoding (which I’d argue they mostly have for 99% of the folks out there) then they should shut up or shut down.

Believe this concerning aircraft over one’s house is more applicable.

OK, so decrypting satellite signals without paying for them is illegal.

Huh? I remember not too many years ago, any signal floating around the airwaves was legally considered free. If you tapped into a cable company’s lines, that was definitely stealing, as was/is decrypting paid channels, but if you built yourself a gizmo that could capture and decrypt HBO or other paid channels by intercepting the sattelite signals, more power to you.

Apparently the laws have changed while I was not paying attention. Amazing that these big corporations can get Congress to pass laws making it illegal to decrypt signals broadcast over the airwaves. They make huge profits selling the equipment and subscriptions to people who don’t have the knowhow to build their own equipment. People who can do it probably would go without rather than pay the company for the equipment- the hacker mentality at work- so I doubt that these “black boxes” or whatever they’re calling the equipment these days are cutting into DirectTV’s profits.

Is it illegal? Yes. Is it stealing? No.

No doubt it’s illegal, and it darn well SHOULD be illegal. Laws exist to benefit the people living here, and the law making this decryption illegal is very beneficial. If we made the decryption of these signals legal, the satellite business would go under, or would never have begun in the first place. The only reason it was feasable to put the satellites up was that the signals could be encrypted and the decryption sold to customers. Remove the ability to sell the decryption (via widespread legal hacking) and there’s no reason to have satellites in the first place.

Some of the replies here seem to assume that broadcasters are sending these signals for their health, rather than for paying customers.

No law - no paying customers - no revenue - no satellite TV. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d much rather have satellite TV exist than not.

One word: highways

Satellite transmissions aren’t a limited resource like merchandise in a box; they blanket every inch of the country, and everyone can use them at once with no loss to anyone else.

The analogy to light bouncing off an object is quite appropriate. Imagine that you put up a scrambled mural on the side of a skyscraper, then charge people for special glasses to view the hidden picture. Is it “stealing” if someone makes his own glasses to look at the picture without paying?