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Communications Act Defense - A Brief Guide to Sections 553 and 605 of the Communications Act

Posted by attorney W Carpenter


In its most essential form, both sections are targeting the piracy of signals displaying programming that the recipient divulges to others for financial gain. Section 553 covers the interception of cable programming while Courts have interpreted Section 605 to cover programming over satellite signals. However, like all regulations, it isn’t that simple. The law is what’s called a ‘strict liability statute.’ This means that it doesn’t matter why you intercepted the signal, or even whether you did so intentionally, it only matters that you did. In the case of your bar or restaurant, it doesn’t matter if you showed it to a packed house on every television or if it could be viewed on one television to a single patron, you violated the act and therefore could be found liable. Depending upon the individual facts in your case, the Court could find that your violation was intentional and that your gain was substantial, enabling the Plaintiff to the recover enhanced damages. All in all, violations could set you back to the tune of $100,000.


Have you received a demand letter from a company claiming that you violated Section 553 or Section 605 because they were the exclusive owners of the signal? If the answer is yes, DO NOT IGNORE THIS LETTER. The letter likely indicates that they had an auditor on the night of a certain event that witnessed the event being shown in your establishment. Now, you may very well have called your cable or satellite provider to order the event, paid $50.00 or so and thought you had done everything right. Well, even if this is what you’ve done, you may still be liable. It may sound crazy, but unfortunately, it is possible. Many times, establishments call their cable or satellite providers to order a pay-per-view event and they are offered the residential rate NOT the commercial rate (which is generally closer to $1,000). Even more problematic is that your agreement with your cable or satellite provider may actually insulate them from you pointing the finger back at the provider. In any case, this letter is the starting point of a legal headache…one that will only get worse if you ignore it.


While your defense options may be limited, that doesn’t mean you are without any options. Like any legal matter, your options are often dictated by the facts of your individual situation. Even though many attorneys may be unwilling or simply too expensive, there are attorneys with experience in these matters that can help you. If you seek an attorney with experience in dealing with these matters, you will be able to focus on your best options. Unfortunately, Section 553 and 605 do not allow you to recover your attorney’s fees even if you win. (Keeping in mind that if you lose, you will be paying for the Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.) So, many times this comes down to a cost analysis. You may be able to settle the matter early and move on to getting back to focusing on the success of your establishment.

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