A Win for the Cyberlaw Clinic in DirecTV Case

This week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked satellite television provider DirecTV's heavy-handed legal tactics and protected security and computer science research into satellite and smart card technology.

The cases, DirecTV v. Huynh and DirecTV v. Oliver, involved a provision of federal law prohibiting the "assembly" or "modification" of equipment designed to intercept satellite signals. DirecTV maintained that the provision should cover anyone who puts together equipment designed for interception of their signals, regardless of their motivation or whether any interception occurs. Our position as lawyers for amicus the Electronic Frontier Foundation was that the provision should apply only to entities that facilitate illegal interception by other people and not to those who simply tinker or use the equipment, such as researchers and others working to further scientific knowledge of the devices at issue. The court agreed with our interpretation of the statute.

These cases were part of DirecTV's nationwide legal campaign against hundreds of thousands of individuals, claiming that they were illegally intercepting its satellite TV signal simply because they had purchased smart card technology. Because DirecTV made little effort to distinguish legal uses of smart card technology from illegal ones, EFF has worked to limit the lawsuits to only those cases where DirecTV has proof that their signals were illegally received.

DirecTV always had legal recourse against those who pirate their signal. This ruling prevents satellite and cable TV companies from piling on excessive damages that would punish and chill legitimate encryption research.

David Price and Trevor Dryer at Stanford Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic assisted in this case.

For the full opinion from the 9th Circuit:

For more on this case:

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