Satellite TV firm searches for pirates

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DirecTV sues four Citrus County residents in a nationwide legal effort to deter theft of its signal.
By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 22, 2003

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DirecTV, the largest provider of digital satellite television in the country, has sued more than 15,000 people nationwide in the past year for alleged piracy of its products and programming.

So far, four Citrus County residents have found themselves caught in the litigation ambush.

If judges side with the California-based company, these individuals could face up to $10,000 for each violation of federal and state laws. The damages jump to $100,000 if DirecTV lawyers can prove an individual sold the products instead of just possessing them for personal use.

The lawsuits reflect an aggressive effort by the 9-year-old company to crack down on the illegal use of devices and equipment designed to allow free, unauthorized viewing of DirecTV's protected satellite programming.

That's a loss of between $34 and $88 a month per customer for the specialized programming subscriptions that comprise the company's revenue.

The company offers more than 225 channels of digital programming that is transmitted from two broadcast centers to satellites approximately 22,300 miles above Earth and then back down to customers' satellite dishes.

DirecTV has invested more than $1.25-billion to develop this direct broadcast satellite system, according to court documents.

"This is the kind of message we're trying to send to consumers, that this is an illegal activity and it has serious consequences," said DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer from the company's headquarters in Los Angeles.

"You can get caught and there are serious consequences," he said. "You will not steal DirecTV's signal with impunity."

Four local men are finding that out the hard way. DirecTV is seeking damages and permanent injunctive relief against Gerome Rizzo Jr. of Beverly Hills, Neil Shaw of Lecanto, Ray Wallace of Crystal River and David A. Chiodo of Inverness.

According to lawsuits filed in Citrus County Circuit Court within the last month, these men have purchased and used illegal modified access cards and other devices that link them into DirecTV's television programming without having to pay.

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