- Sep 8, 2003
Clients fight back, claim company is on a witch hunt
By John Accola, Rocky Mountain News
December 13, 2003
A take-no-prisoners attack to root out signal pirates has sent DirecTV to the courts to sue thousands of individuals across the country.
But the yearlong litigation blitz brought by the nation's leading satellite-TV company has some defense attorneys and their targeted clients crying foul. In Colorado and elsewhere, DirecTV is facing counterclaims from a growing number of defendants who say they've been wrongly nabbed in a legal dragnet more akin to a witch hunt.
"Defending myself will cost me twice as much as settling," said Broomfield computer consultant Jeff Kurzawa, a defendant who vows to fight the DirecTV piracy suit he says is not only groundless but malicious. "I react very badly to being threatened and bullied for something I didn't do."
The stakes are high, given that the satellite-television business by some estimates loses $1 billion a year to piracy. In its crackdown, DirecTV has sued 18,000 people, including nearly 200 in Colorado, all in the past year.
In some cases, DirecTV is seeking penalties of $100,000 or more if the cases go to trial. DirecTV says it's entitled to civil damages under federal law making it a crime to manufacture, distribute and possess devices designed to steal programming.
The rub is that the devices also can have legitimate, legal, everyday uses as long as they aren't used for pirating satellite programming. Experts say DirecTV doesn't differentiate the pirates from law-abiding techies.
Kurzawa's attorney, O. Russel Murray, has accused DirecTV of using the legal system to "intimidate, harass and extort" out-of- court financial settlements from innocent consumers. Murray has filed counterclaims of abuse of process and conspiracy on behalf of Kurzawa and 14 other Colorado defendants. All are seeking reimbursement of their legal fees and damages for DirecTV's "willful, wanton and reckless conduct."
"My words aren't any stronger than what DirecTV uses in claiming all these defendants have stolen their programming and purchased illegal devices," Murray said. "It's just not true."
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