Federal law prohibits people who transmit or receive wire or radio communications from broadcasting such communications to unauthorized persons. A common example of this would be if a sports bar owner shows a pay-per-view event to patrons without contractual authorization of the exclusive rights owner. The bar owner needs to obtain commercial exhibition rights, which can only be obtained from the exclusive distributor, not from a satellite provider. Essentially, it is a strict liability violation that targets commercial establishments and prohibits the unauthorized interception and broadcast of satellite cable. This means even if the establishment did not know or did not have reason to know they were in violation, they can still be liable. It should also be noted that satellite cable programming by an individual for private viewing does not violate federal law.
The very nature of radio or satellite communications is such that there is a potential of a multitude of petty violations of this federal statute. However, applying the federal law is usually reserved only for cases in which there is continuing and flagrant violation of the law.
Penalties and/or damages for violating this statute vary, depending on whether or not the violation was willful. A person who “willfully” violates the criminal prohibitions contained in this section is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for up to six months. If a person willfully violates this provision for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain, the penalty is a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for up to two years, and a $100,000 fine and imprisonment for up to five years for any subsequent conviction.
Any person aggrieved by the violation may bring a civil action in federal court or in any other court of competent jurisdiction. The court may grant remedies including temporary and final injunctions, monetary damages, full costs, including awarding attorneys’ fees to aggrieved prevailing party.
Damages shall be computed at the election of the aggrieved party, which can be actual damages or statutory damages. Actual damages as a result of the violation and any profits of the violator that are attributable to the violation. The statutory damages are determined by each violation involved by a sum of between $1,000 and $10,000.
Florida State Law
Florida law prohibits any person from knowingly intercepting, receiving, decrypting, disrupting, transmitting, retransmitting, or acquiring access to any communications service without the express authorization of the cable operator or other communications service provider. Florida law also prohibits knowingly assisting others in doing those acts with the intent to defraud the cable operator or other communications provider.
Anyone who willfully violates commits a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the person is repeat offender of this statute, or if they willfully violate the statute for commercial advantage or private financial gain the crime is considered a felony of the third degree. This statute also gives the court authority to “sentence a person” convicted of violating this section to make restitution.
A person who is aggrieved by the violation can bring an action in circuit court. The remedies which can be sought under this statute include temporary and final injunctions, along with other equitable relief, monetary damages, full costs, including attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.
Florida law allows the aggrieved party to elect either actual damages or statutory damages. Actual damages are determined by the aggrieved party’s actual damages as a result of the violation and any profits of the violator that are attributable to the violation. To prove the violator’s profits, the party aggrieved only needs to show the violator’s gross revenues, and the violator then has the burden of proving his deductible expenses and other factors that attribute the profits to factors that are not related to the violation.
When statutory damages are elected, damages are computed between $250 and $10,000 for each communications device involved in the action. Where the violation is found to have been willful, and for the purpose of commercial advantage or financial gain, the court may increase the damages regardless of whether the aggrieved party selected actual or statutory damages, by no more than $50,000 for each communication device involved in the violation, and for each day that the defendant is in violation. However, where the court finds that the violator was not aware and had no reason to believe his actions constituted a violation, the court may in its discretion reduce the amount of damages to no less than $100.