DirecTV, a satellite television service that is owned by Hughes Electronics, has recently
stepped up its efforts to stop the biggest competition in their field. You might expect
their efforts to be directed at another company, but in the case of DirecTV it's actually
DirecTV has previously attempted to counteract piracy by taking Electronic Counter
Measures (ECM) that would temporarily delay services in hopes that the end users would
eventually tire of the constant efforts to keep their systems functioning. While it
sounds good in theory, the pirates simply evolved and gained an even greater number of
customers who were willing to put up with temporary problems in exchange for basically
DirecTV has tried several methods for controlling the widespread use of pirated access
cards. In January, they disabled thousands of illegal access cards ahead of the Super
Bowl, which is one of the most widely viewed events in the world. While it was a
temporary success, the pirates simply developed alternatives for their customers that
allow them to use a personal computer in conjunction with the disable access cards to
regain their "free" service. The devices, called a bootloader, are being sold
on countless web sites on the Internet for anywhere from 50 to a few hundred dollars.
Another device that appears to be relatively new for pirates is an emulator. Much like
emulators for computers and game systems, it allows users to emulate the functionality of
an access card to gain access to free service. This form of piracy is much more difficult
to deal with for DirecTV because they cannot simply disable the service with an ECM as the
access cards are protected by the computer. While researching this article, I was
astounded by how quick and easy I was able to obtain an emulator, parts, software and step
by step directions to set it up. In a matter of a few hours, I had everything needed to
run an emulator on a DirecTV system.
Now, with pirates becoming more difficult to deal with, DirecTV appears to be turning back
the courts for relief. Recently, DirecTV has sued 80 individuals in California for using
and selling devices that allow the viewing of DirecTV signals without paying for the
service. According to press information, DirecTV conducts one or two criminal raids a week
against suspected pirates.
The future of satellite television is definitely being affected by satellite piracy and is
becoming increasingly serious for DirecTV and many of their suppliers. For instance,
Radio Shack, the home electronics giant, has suggested that satellite piracy has caused a
tremendous downturn in their revenue. Strangely, the sales of DirecTV units were actually
up at Radio Shack, but since it receives compensation for the activation of services
instead of actual purchases of the units, their resulting revenue was down. Radio Shack
attributed the large number of purchases without activation to satellite piracy since they
would have otherwise been basically useless.
It remains to be seen if DirecTV will be successful with this round of lawsuits and
ECMs,or if they will have any long-term affects on the satellite pirates who always seem
one step ahead of the game.