Unauthorized Reception of Cable Service

Earth hologram with many business pictures over it in reference to unauthorized cable service

Federal Law

Federal law prohibits persons from receiving cable communications service without permission of the operator. Violating this law is considered theft of commercial cable communicators. 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.

The subject statute provides for both criminal and civil penalties for violations of this section. The victim of an interception may bring a civil action in federal court for an injunction, damages, and costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees. 

Penalties for willful violation is set at up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 6 months.  However, where the violation is willful and for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, the fine is set at up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years for the first offense, and up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years for any subsequent offense.  Each device used in the transmission is deemed a separate violation.

Federal law sets forth civil remedies, which include bringing a civil action in federal court or in any other court of competent jurisdiction. The court may grant temporary or final injunctions, damages, full costs, including awarding reasonable attorney’s fees to an aggrieved party who prevails.  The aggrieved party can elect either actual damages or statutory damages. Actual damages are computed by determining the actual damage suffered by the aggrieved party and the profits of the violator attributable to the violation. The violator will have to prove his deductible expenses and profits not attributable to the violation to offset the profits. The statutory damages are set at not less than $250 or more than $10,000. If the violation was willful, the court may increase the award by up to $50,000. However, where the court finds that the violator was not aware and had no reason to believe that his acts constituted a violation the court in its discretion can enter an award of not less than $100.

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 the law commits a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the person is a 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. 

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables, West Palm Beach and historic Washington D.C. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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Eric Gros-Dubois

Eric P. Gros-Dubois founded EPGD Business Law in 2013 and is the current head of the firm’s corporate, estate planning, and tax practice, and manages the firm’s Washington D.C. office. With a JD and MBA, and a specialization in finance, Eric is able to step back and view the legal world through a commercial lens while also acting as a trusted business advisor for his clients. He does his best to be solutions oriented, and tries to think like a business owner, not just a lawyer.


*The following comments are not intended to be treated as legal advice. The answer to your question is limited to the basic facts presented. Additional details may heavily alter our assessment and change the answer provided. For a more thorough review of your question please contact our office for a consultation.

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